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Opinion: NFL gets it wrong again by not disciplining Chiefs' Tyreek Hill

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Why does the NFL even bother?

It’s been five years since Ray Rice and three years since Josh Brown, and the NFL remains as weak on domestic violence now as it was then. Think about that. For all the public condemnation, all the mea culpas and promises to change, all the window dressing, the NFL still can’t be bothered to actually protect the women and children in harm’s way and, equally important, ensure its players are getting the help they need.

On Friday morning, the NFL announced that Kansas City Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill was free to go about his life and head to training camp as if these past few months had never happened. Forget that someone broke the arm of his 3-year-old son, and that Hill was heard on an audiotape threatening his girlfriend.

This would be the same girlfriend Hill pleaded guilty to abusing when she was pregnant with the child whose arm was broken, mind you.

“I did something I shouldn’t have done,” Hill acknowledged in court then. “I let my feelings take control of me.”

And yet, the NFL is going to do nothing. Worse than that, actually, because in clearing Hill, the league has provided every other player arrested for domestic violence with a blueprint on how to beat the system.

Hill’s girlfriend, Crystal Espinal, wouldn’t talk to league investigators, despite repeated requests from the NFL, a person with knowledge of the investigation told USA TODAY Sports. The person was granted anonymity because details of the investigation were not made public. Investigations of crimes against minors are confidential, so league investigators were unable to access police and court records that detailed the alleged abuse, the person said.

“Based on the evidence presently available, the NFL cannot conclude that Mr. Hill violated the Personal Conduct Policy,” the NFL statement said.

What a cop out.

It’s true that criminal charges were not filed because prosecutors could not determine who broke Hill’s son’s arm. But the NFL is not subject to the same threshold of evidence.

Speaking of evidence, that line about the NFL not being able to obtain information should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism. We heard the same song and dance in both the Rice and the Brown cases, only to find out that the NFL’s “efforts” were cursory, at best.

But let’s say the NFL did try its best. There is enough that has been made public to see that, at the very least, Hill has tarnished NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s beloved shield.

Though no charges were filed, the Johnson County (Kansas) district attorney refused to clear Hill or Espinal. Quite the opposite, saying he believed a crime had been committed. And there’s enough fear for the safety of Hill’s son that his “ongoing care is being directed and monitored by the Johnson County District Court and the Johnson County Department for Children and Families.”

Those are the NFL’s own words, not mine.

Now consider Hill’s words on the audiotape. When Espinal says their son is “terrified” of Hill, he responds by saying, “You need to be terrified of me, too, dumb, (expletive).”

There is no plausible excuse or explanation for such a menacing statement. Especially given the history between the two.

When Hill was arrested for domestic violence in December 2014, Espinal told authorities he had a “volatile temper.” She also said he’d gotten physical with her before, but characterized it as “manhandling.” This, she told authorities then, was the first time he’d hit her.

When she arrived at the emergency room, Espinal had cuts and bruises on her face and neck. She also told police that Hill had thrown her to the ground and repeatedly punched her in the stomach. She was eight weeks pregnant at the time.

Taken in total, it’s a troubling picture. Not troubling enough for the NFL, however.

There is a difference between being criminally culpable and deserving to be disciplined by the NFL. Playing in the league is a privilege, Goodell likes to say, and with that comes added responsibilities and expectations.

But those are just lofty words meant to placate critics. The truth is, the NFL only does the right thing when abuse victims make it easy for the league to do so or a damning video is made public.

That’s not protecting the shield. And it’s not protecting those who need it most.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour

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