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Domestic violence and sports: What are the limits of fandom?

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What sins are unforgivable?

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

Last weekend, the Chiefs selected wide receiver Tyreek Hill out of Oklahoma State in the fifth round. Hill seems to be a speed demon who could be a good value for his round. However, there is also this.

Tyreek Hill and his eight-weeks pregnant girlfriend Crystal Espinal had planned a night out to the movies Dec. 11 when an argument over text messages escalated into alleged physical violence....

Espinal said an argument began when she discovered Hill, 21, had been looking through her phone. Espinal told the courtroom she received a text message from someone who claimed Hill had been "hitting on high schoolers." Espinal said Hill was upset and did not want to talk, then threw her phone and laptop into the hallway outside his room. Espinal went to retrieve those items and Hill shut the door. She says the assault — which includes alleged choking, tearing of her shirt, punching of her face and stomach — occurred when she returned to the room.

The incident, unfortunately, was not an isolated incident.

Hill’s girlfriend also told police that he’d been physical with her before, "but it had not been this bad, just a lot of manhandling but Hill has never hit her," according to the report.

To their credit, many Chiefs fans and local sports commentators, although certainly not all, are horrified by the pick. However, Chiefs fans will no doubt pack Arrowhead Stadium, even if Hill makes the roster. And if Hill manages to score a touchdown, there will still be applause and high-fives. I am a Chiefs fan, and while I also find the pick to be abhorrent, I am quite certain I will still wear Chiefs red this fall and tune in on Sundays, although I cannot see myself cheering for Hill when he is on the field. Am I a hypocrite?

We know professional athletes are no saints. While the overwhelming majority are fine upstanding citizens, a small segment of the profession have been murderersrapistschild molestersdomestic abusers, and fraudsters. Some of the crimes we overlook. Tony LaRussa is a Hall of Fame manager who was arrested for driving under the influence, but the ordeal has become an embarrassing footnote to his acclaimed career. Until recently, domestic abuse incident were largely ignored in professional sports, but heinous crimes by NFL players have caused both that league and Major League Baseball to implement a domestic violence suspension program, that has already led to the suspension of Colorado Rockies shortstop Jose Reyes.

America is a land of second chances, and domestic violence, though a heinous crime, has not been something we have determined should carry a sentence of lifetime incarceration. We expect domestic abusers to serve their sentence and go on to become productive members of society. On the other hand, playing professional sports is a privilege. Sports is also the entertainment business, marketed to fans both males and females alike. Drafting a domestic abuser has already cost the Chiefs a great deal of bad publicity. We also know that domestic abuse is more than just an error of judgment or a mistake. It is quite often a pattern of behavior. As fans, can we morally cheer on a team that has a domestic abuser on the roster?

In 2007, the Royals acquired infielder Alberto Callaspo from the Arizona Diamondbacks. Just a few months earlier, Callaspo was placed on the restricted list for a domestic incident in which he was accused of assaulting his wife.

The court document said Callaspo told officers he argued with his 22-year-old wife and kicked her in the buttocks after she pushed him. Paola sustained minor abrasions and had a foot mark on her pants, officer Christopher Meraz wrote. Callaspo also told officers he threw a video camera and cell phone to the floor during the argument.

At the time, the domestic abuse incident was hardly mentioned when the Royals acquired Callaspo. Should it have been? Granted, from the reported facts, Callaspo's case does not sound as awful as Hill's, but should that matter? It was still enough to warrant police involvement (his charges were later dropped). What is the obligation of fans when their favorite team acquires a player who has done something heinous? What crimes are worthy of scorn and which are worthy of forgiveness?

Domestic violence accounts for about 2 million injuries and over a thousand deaths per year. I am heartened to see sports leagues begin to take the crime seriously, and that fans have loudly voiced criticism for the Chiefs drafting Hill. But it is also easier to take a stand when talking about a new player to the team. Would you continue to cheer for a beloved Royals player if he was arrested for domestic violence? Would you continue to support the team with him on the roster?

At the end of the day, sports is just entertainment - a multi-billion dollar industry of entertainment - but entertainment nonetheless. When real life and death issues jut up against sports, it can be disturbing for those looking to sports to escape the hard edges of real life. But it is important to keep perspective. Would you defend this domestic abuser if he didn't run a 4.25 40-yard dash? Would you give him a second chance with your daughter?

I don't know how I will react to the Chiefs this fall if Hill is on the roster. I don't know how I would react to finding out my favorite Royals player was a despicable human being. But I do think the issue should give us all pause. Why are we supporting this player? Is it because we really care about his welfare and think he deserves a second chance, or is it because we care so much about winning? And if we do object, what is the best recourse? Quiet objection? Booing the player? Boycotting the team?

In the meantime, there is something positive that can come out of this. The issue has raised awareness on domestic violence and many Kansas City fans, spurred by Danny Parkins and Carrington Harrison at 610 KCSP have come together to raise money for the Rose Brooks Center, a shelter for abused women. You can donate here.