There are a handful of abusers, accused rapists, and criminals playing professional football who have managed to gracefully move past their transgressions. Michael Vick spent time in prison for dogfighting and now works with the Humane Society. Ray Rice, should he ever return to the NFL, will do so having dedicated a considerable amount of time to understanding and speaking out against the same sort of domestic violence he committed on camera. Critics may accuse Vick and Rice of being involved in those causes for the sake of their image rather than out of sincerity, but they are at least doing their actions are doing good. But then there’s Greg Hardy.
Hardy, on the other hand, is busy skipping team meetings, tweeting unrepentantly about the accusations that have been leveled against him (even after photos of the woman who told authorities he beat and threatened her surfaced), making sexist remarks about other players’ wives, and getting into fights with his teammates and coaches on camera.
Hardy spent most of the 2014 NFL season on the commissioner’s exempt list, after Rice’s incident made the NFL pretend to care about domestic violence; he started one game for the Carolina Panthers that season, then was suspended for the rest of the year. At the end of the season, with no contract, he was free to sign elsewhere—and only the Dallas Cowboys were interested in offering Hardy a contract without first grilling him about what happened in May 2013, when Hardy was convicted domestic violence and communicating threats in a bench trial (the conviction was vacated at a jury trial after his accuser failed to appear in court).
In March, Hardy signed a one-year deal with the Cowboys for $11.3 million, pro-rated after he served a four-game suspension to start the season. At the time, owner Jerry Jones defended the decision by talking about the Cowboys’ need for a pass rusher and expressing confidence that Hardy understood the seriousness of the crime he’d been accused of.
In September, Jones described him as “a model guy,” explaining that he was “proud” to have Hardy, whom he said he admired, on the team. He went on to pledge that he would help Hardy “move on” from his abusive past, and suggest that the charges against him may have been false. In October, after Hardy was captured on camera shoving coaches and screaming at teammates during a game against the Giants, Jones described his actions as “getting guys ready to play” and “motivating” the other Cowboys. Earlier this month, after Deadspin published photos of the woman who called authorities to report abuse and threats after her encounter with Hardy, Jones called him “inspirational.”
Now, after Hardy has reportedly been skipping team meetings, Jones is diving out in front of the media to once more defend his prized pass rusher. This time out, he explained that, after meeting with him, Hardy promised “to really work” to improve his behavior.
That brings up a couple of questions: One, what was Hardy doing before he promised to work on his behavior, and two, why was Jones defending him before he agreed to work on anything?
There are no consequences for Jones in keeping Hardy around. The risks, especially with the team friendly contract that he signed, are not carried by the Cowboys. The big threat to Jones regarding Hardy is in having to admit that he made a mistake. Jones has spent the past eight months defending Hardy and his decision to sign him. He’s continued to do so even as the player’s behavior has gotten increasingly egregious. At some point, it appears that Jones is pressing on because the idea of signaling to the world that he was full of it when he praised the guy is harder for him than watching Hardy embarrass the organization and tear his team apart.
Because, let’s be clear, at this point there’s little gridiron tactics in the decision to keep Hardy around. The Cowboys aren’t eliminated from playoff contention, but they sure have a tough road to get there: They’re at 3-7 and in last place in the NFC East. With four of their last six games against the Packers, Panthers, Jets, and Bills, the odds that they’ll be playoff bound are pretty slim. The team is 1-5 since Hardy’s suspension ended, and the one game that they won—this past Sunday—was secured without much contribution from Hardy. He has 4.5 sacks in six games—decent numbers, but nothing that would lead one to believe that the team would be lost without him. (Especially since they’ve been lost with him the whole season.)
All of which makes it hard to argue with the premise that Greg Hardy wears a star on his helmet right now for one reason alone—it requires Jerry Jones to admit a mistake. He’s not helping the team win, and his behavior requires constant press conferences to explain. This has been something of a lost year for the team because of injuries to players like Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, but the fact that Greg Hardy is still on the team should be the biggest disappointment for Cowboys fans.