The NFL’s in-house justice system is deeply flawed, for a variety of reasons. One of the most important reasons is this: It often has no power to get the evidence needed to properly investigate incidents involving players.
While the league can compel players and league/team employees to cooperate, the league has no authority to issue subpoeanas for testimony or documents to people disconnected to the NFL.
As explained by A.J. Perez of USA Today, those inherent limits on the NFL’s investigative abilities prevented the league from conducting a complete investigation regarding child-abuse allegations made against Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill. Perez reports that prosecutors in Kansas relied on an exception to the state’s open-records law to deny the league’s request for information relating to the case that explored whether and to what extent Hill’s son was the victim of child abuse.
On April 24, Johnson County, Kansas prosecutor Steve Howe said at a press conference that he believes a crime was committed against Hill’s son, but that insufficient proof existed as to the identity of the perpetrator.
The league made the request for information that same day. The next day, Howe responded, citing the exception to decline to provide any information to the NFL.
This means that Hill hasn’t been exonerated by the league. Instead, the NFL was unable to find a violation of the Personal Conduct Policy because it can’t get the information from the agency that is entitled to keep it secret, given that it has decided that it lacks proof beyond a reasonble doubt to prove Hill’s guilt.
It’s still unclear why Howe didn’t simply choose to charge both parents — Hill and Crystal Espinal — presenting the evidence and letting a jury decide whether either or both were responsible for the crime that Howe believes was committed. Even if both were acquitted, the league would then have access to the evidence, if any, against Hill. Given that the NFL applies a much lower standard to matters of guilt or innocence, the evidence that would be introduced at a trial of Hill and/or Espinal could have been enough to justify discipline.