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Vahe Gregorian: Tyreek Hill returns to field, but it’s two steps forward, one step back for Chiefs star

ST. JOSEPH, Mo. – Following months of silence amid various investigations and what was effectively a suspension by the Chiefs, Tyreek Hill’s first interview since his reinstatement was a weighty occasion as everyone involved seeks to move forward.

For virtually the entire 8-plus minute interview Sunday at Chiefs training camp, Hill conveyed much of what you could realistically hope to see and hear with his first public sentiments since the NFL announced that “based on the evidence presently available, (it) cannot conclude” he violated its personal conduct policy. This after a four-month league investigation in the wake of a child-abuse probe involving Hill and former fiancee Crystal Espinal.

But for one disconcerting flash, Hill’s demeanor and sentiments largely resonated as sincere and contrite and encouraging, to the degree words alone matter.

Politely putting on pause the first question to deliver in essence an opening statement, he declared, “I can’t wait for my new journey.” Referring to advice of his mother, he spoke of not just needing to change but to grow and “add layers to yourself.”

He talked about needing “to work on my life skills” and brought up coming into the league with “a bad history” – an apparent reference to pleading guilty in 2015 to domestic assault of the then-pregnant Espinal. And without being directly asked, he addressed the coarse and menacing words (“you need to be terrified of me, too, dumb b – _ “) secretly recorded by Espinal and further manipulated by KCTV-5 news through piecemeal snippets released in April.

“I’m just here to man up to what I did, like on the audio. My bad language. I’m going to man up to that,” he said. “I don’t want nobody talking to my little sister, my daughter that I have now, my mom, like that. It’s very disrespectful.

“And my mom got onto me. She was like thumping me in the ear, like, ‘Come on, grow up. Grow up out of that.’ So, never again … I’m growing as a human being, as a person. Never again.”

Some of this generally positive impact, though, was tarnished by one unbecoming sneer that should remind Hill of his immense influence if he indeed means it when he says he is striving to grow and add layers and work on his life skills, and be respectful.

As Brooke Pryor, in her second year of covering the Chiefs beat for The Star, asked him a question, Hill asked, “What’s your name?”

When she answered, he paused to smirk for effect before, in fact, answering her question.

Whatever Hill’s intent was in a video gone viral around the nation, the impact was to embolden a mob mentality most visible on the medium of Twitter – where the vitriol already had risen to the level of threats against her that The Star is taking seriously.

While there is no reason to believe Hill was conscious of that potential fallout, that discouraging moment encourages a patently false narrative being pushed in some circles that there has been inaccurate reporting by The Star.

But since it began in March with reporting on Hill and Espinal being involved in investigations of child abuse and neglect by law enforcement and the Kansas Department for Children and Families that led to the loss of custody of their 3-year-old son, The Star’s reporting on the topic has been impeccable after being thoroughly vetted internally at every turn.

Reporters take heat all the time, and few, if any, ever want to be the news. And you could make a case that after all this time, Hill just needed a quick way to vent, and that what he did was a blip best ignored, especially since scrutinizing it might further fuel the nastiness.

But on a day Hill said so many of the right things, this action said something else that simply would be disingenuous to ignore.

Near the end of his interview, Hill was asked about part of the audio (later released in full by 610 Sports Radio) that refers to him punching his son in the chest.

After saying that probably was a reference to “me teaching my son how to box” and the boy saying “come on, come on, come on all the time,” he switched tracks.

“Sometimes things get thrown out of context,” he said, “when feelings get involved and emotions.”

Alas, his misstep on Sunday was part of the context of this day. He took a few steps forward overall … but a step back that gives pause, too.

Here’s hoping it was more a matter of being imprudent than impudent, and that Hill really is the work in progress he’s telling us he is.

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Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill during a news conference on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, ahead of the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill during a news conference on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019, ahead of the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots in Kansas City, Mo. (John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/TNS)

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