The criticism the NFL has received over the past few years for its handling of issues stemming from drug use and player rights to concussions and its links to CTE have put the corporation in a position that it has never been in before. Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized for mishandling off-the-field issues. Questions about how much the league does to care for their players have been brought up on several occasions. But responses to an incident nearly two years old have been, as noted by many, nothing short of poor and embarrassing for a league that aims to protect and care for its players.
May 13 marks the two year anniversary of the day Greg Hardy’s life changed forever. It marked the beginning of his future stint with the Dallas Cowboys – America’s Team. The bright lights of AT&T Stadium-known as Jerry’s World in reference to owner Jerry Jones-shining upon his 6-foot-5, 280 pound frame would have Cowboys fans cheering for him on Sundays, watching him swim and bull rush his way through offensive linemen, just as he did during his Pro Bowl year in 2013 with the Carolina Panthers. Those same fans were the ones who would praise Hardy for making a crucial late-game sack, but boo Los Angeles Clippers center and Texas-native DeAndre Jordan for changing his mind in free agency about playing for his home state Dallas Mavericks, something NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy called “absurd” during a live broadcast last season.
“I would also like the Dallas fans to acknowledge the sheer lunacy and absurdity that they’re booing DeAndre Jordan tonight, and they’ll be cheering someone like Greg Hardy on Sunday,” Van Gundy said. “That, to me, is absurd. All this guy (Jordan) did was change his mind.”
“Someone like Greg Hardy.”
Not the Greg Hardy who recorded an SEC-best 10 sacks in 2007 at Mississippi, nor the Greg Hardy who recorded the Panthers single-season sack record with 15 in 2013.
This Greg Hardy, the one Van Gundy referred to, was charged with domestic violence, guilty of assaulting his girlfriend Nicole Holder that May in North Carolina.
He was convicted and sentenced to 18 months probation. He was charged with grabbing his girlfriend by the hair, neck, and throat, choking her, leaving her with bruises, and throwing her on a couch of loaded shotguns and assault rifles. He was also charged with threatening to break her arms and kill her, all while ignoring her screams and pleads for help.
His 60-day prison sentence was suspended. A year-and-a-half later, he was a member of the Dallas Cowboys.
Now, Hardy is without a job. He is currently a free agent, seeking work before preseason games begin in August. But teams are holding off on the 27-year-old, and the NFL hasn’t taken his side. Hardy hasn’t seemed apologetic or remorseful, either.
Before the Cowboys were set to take on the New England Patriots back in October, Hardy, fresh off a four-game suspension from the May incident, made controversial comments about Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and his wife, supermodel Gisele Bundchen. “I love seeing Tom Brady,” Hardy said. “You seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game.”
Jones defended his player, coming to his defense after a reported meeting between the two.
“I will say this: Over the last three or four weeks, I would hate to see anybody who had more pressure on him than Hardy,” Jones said.
“There is a genuine effort for him to rehab what is the perception of him.”
Jones’ comments came after Hardy changed his Twitter bio in an effort to proclaim his innocence. “Innocent until proven guilty, lack of knowledge and information is just ignorance,” Hardy wrote on his page.
This was the guy who the hierarchy within the Cowboys organization attempted to glorify, a guy who made potentially derogatory comments about another player’s wife after dealing with personal issues with women.
Today, Hardy is still searching, but it’s not a gripe against his talent and performance on the field. The NFL has not handled past cases of domestic violence particularly well, most notably with Ray Rice, who was suspended for only two games after video surfaced of him knocking his then-fiancee out in an elevator.
This is more of a testament to the NFL, the league who claims to care about women but won’t show it when situations such as these occur. Martavis Bryant was banned for the upcoming NFL season due to substance abuse. Two years ago, that wouldn’t have happened. Now Hardy, who found himself in Rice’s position with a brief slap-on-the-wrist punishment, is facing the harsh, yet supported manner in which teams around the league have responded to his actions and actions alike. Violence and convictions for assaults are no longer taken lightly, and this is proof that the NFL is moving in the right direction.
Rice, who has publicly acknowledged his mistakes and has taken steps with his wife, Janay, to reach out into communities and speak on his experience, may not ever take a carry in the NFL again.
But he may join a team in an effort to connect with the younger players, who come into the business with unthinkable amounts of money, fame, spotlight, and life choices staring them right in the eye.
Hardy is in need of that, and the league knows. The NFL is finally going in the right direction.