Newly-signed Dallas Cowboy Greg Hardy is a heckuva pass rusher. The 26-year-old former Carolina Panther tallied a combined 26 sacks in the 2012 and 2013 seasons, leading the Panthers to keep the defensive end from exploring free agency by applying the franchise tag to the player, paying him $13.1 million for that season.
He didn’t match those numbers in 2014, though, because he spent the final fifteen games of the season on the Commissioner’s Exempt List, a specially-created purgatory for players charged with or convicted of the sort of crimes the NFL would desperately like to distance itself from. And in July, Hardy was convicted by a judge at a bench trial of threatening and assaulting a woman.
Hardy’s situation is unusual—following the bench trial, he appealed the conviction and a jury trial was set for early 2015. In the meantime, Hardy and the woman he’s accused of assaulting and threatening reportedly reached an undisclosed settlement in a civil suit, and she subsequently declined to make herself available to the prosecution, resulting in the charges against Hardy being dismissed and the conviction overturned.
If you think that sounds like Hardy buying the silence of his accuser, well, you’re not alone. Different reporters have characterized her behavior in different ways: some have portrayed her as a gold-digger who saw an opportunity to go spend Hardy’s money; others reject that in the strongest language possible, noting that she was reportedly terrified of Hardy. Whatever interpretation seems logical to you, it doesn’t change the fact that, during the bench trial in July, Judge Rebecca Thorne-Tin found that “the court is entirely convinced Hardy is guilty of assault on a female and communicating threats.”
But the Cowboys’ pass rush sure does need some help. And when explaining the decision to sign Hardy, despite the conviction that disappeared only when the woman he’s accused of assaulting did the same, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones spent the first paragraph talking pass rush:
“This agreement involved an important element of our defensive scheme, specifically the pass rush, at a position that we felt we needed to address this off season,” Jones said in a statement issued with the announcement that defensive end Greg Hardy has signed a contract. “We entered this free agency period with the idea of utilizing key resources to help us on the defensive side of the ball. . . .
“We have spent a great deal of time over the last two days in meeting with Greg directly and gaining a solid understanding of what he is all about as a person and as a football player. A thorough background review of him, involving many elements of our organization, has been ongoing for the last few weeks.
“Obviously a great deal of our study was dedicated to the issue of domestic violence, and the recent events that associated Greg with that issue. We know that Greg’s status remains under review by the National Football League.
“Our organization understands the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society and in our league. We know that Greg has a firm understanding of those issues as well.”
It’s unclear where Hardy would have obtained a firm understanding of the very serious nature of domestic violence in our society, and the fact that Jones spends the first paragraph of his statement justifying the addition of Hardy to his team in football terms makes his assertion that Hardy has suddenly come around on domestic violence seem suspect. At the very least, it’s awfully convenient. But it also brings up something that former Philadelphia Eagles and Houston Oilers quarterback Don McPherson said at SXSW over the weekend.
McPherson, along with former University of New Mexico kicker Katie Hnida and NoMore.org co-founder Jane Randel, spoke at a panel called “Can Sports Help End a Culture of Violence?” at SXSports. During the panel, McPherson made a salient point when it comes to addressing the way football organization people discuss domestic violence and men’s violence against women. Hardy has a job because he’s a superb pass rusher in the prime of his career—essentially, he has a job for the same reason that Ray Rice does not—and there’s a notion that the first paragraph of Jones’s letter elucidates, which is that being able to help a team on the football field is the most important thing, and accusations against him (or against Jameis Winston, or against Adrian Peterson, or Ben Roethlisberger) are unimportant in the face of his ability to enhance “an important element of our defensive scheme,” as Jones explained it.
The question McPherson asked was, What if the player supported ISIS?
The hypocrisy of the NFL and the men who work from positions of power within the league is on full display with the signing of Hardy. On the one hand, the league funnels money into organizations like No More, claiming that it’s finally serious about changing a culture of violence. On the other hand, owners like Jones (and, reportedly, Seahawks owner Paul Allen, and Bucs owner Malcolm Glazer, who also apparently sought Hardy’s services)—owners who are the league—offer someone like Greg Hardy a contract worth up to $13.1 million to improve an important element of their defensive schemes. The argument goes that Hardy was only briefly convicted of the charge he faced, and that he’s grown and changed despite zero evidence of such growth and change, and that ultimately the Dallas Cowboys are in the business of winning football games, not being the morality police.
But, again, what if Hardy had given an interview where he said, “I think that ISIS has some good ideas”?
The fact is, a court of law isn’t the only place we determine whether or not a person is someone we want to be around, we want to cheer for, we want to support, or we want to employ. We constantly determine whether or not we’re comfortable with a person’s statements and actions and make decisions about what roles we’re willing to put them in based on how we feel about those actions.
It’s impossible to imagine any NFL team employing a player who publicly supported ISIS. And certainly, no matter how good that player is, no fan would want him on their team. But what that suggests is that we do have a line where a player can do something that elicits no courtroom conviction, that doesn’t affect his on-field ability to play the game, that doesn’t change anything about his availability to the team on Sundays, that also makes him unacceptable to fans, coaches, and owners.
It’s just that a court being “entirely convinced” that the player “is guilty of assault on a female and communicating threats,” and the conviction being overturned only after the witness stops cooperating, isn’t one of them. Neither are credible rape allegations like the ones that have been lodged against Winston or Roethlisberger, or the conviction on a charge of reckless assault (pled down from child abuse) issued against Adrian Peterson, who may well end up in the Cowboys backfield in 2015 if Jones can swing a trade.
In other words: Greg Hardy is a heckuva pass rusher. If he assaulted and threatened a woman off the field, well, the Cowboys will reserve judgment until he does something they think is truly unforgivable.
(AP Photo/The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Siner, Pool.)