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Tackling domestic violence in the NFL

By Matthew Ajaj
Staff Writer

In May of 2014, then-Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy mercilessly assaulted his girlfriend, Nicole Holder, through a horrifying sequence of events. These included dragging her by the hair, throwing her on a futon covered in assault rifles and strangling her to the brink of death.  Eighteen months later, Hardy is currently making $11.3 million playing for the Dallas Cowboys.

The Greg Hardy saga was not of much public interest until earlier this week when Deadspin leaked photos of Holder’s bruises resulting from the assault. Shocked and appalled, the public is now demanding Hardy’s release from the Cowboys and banishment from the NFL.

Greg Hardy leaves a North Carolina jail in May 2014. (AP Photo)
Greg Hardy leaves a North Carolina jail in May 2014. (AP Photo)

Just last year, Ray Rice had assaulted his fiancé and received a two-game suspension from NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell. At the time, the NFL community did not really care for this case at all. But then the security footage of the incident was released and the public lost their minds. Facing extreme scrutiny from the fandom, the Baltimore Ravens released Rice and the NFL suspended him indefinitely. Although Rice appealed this suspension and won, no team has taken a chance on him since.

The NFL was foolish to hand a domestic violence perpetrator a two-game suspension — video or no video. The public was foolish to accept this initial punishment — video or no video. Prior to any suspensions, Rice was indicted on aggravated assault charges. The whole story was there from the start. No information was withheld. We had every bit of evidence necessary, so why was public physical evidence essential to cause outcry and demand change? It shouldn’t have been essential. Collectively, America was the fool.

And yet, we, as sports fans, have managed to make ourselves look more imprudent with the handling of Greg Hardy, whose case is extremely similar in nature to Rice’s. Hardy would play one game in 2014 before being put on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list and deactivated for the rest of the season by his team. Finishing his contract with the Panthers, the talented Hardy was signed by the Dallas Cowboys in March of 2015. Then, in April, the NFL handed Hardy a 10-game suspension, which the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) contested and succeed in reducing it down to just four games.

We, as a society, have learned nothing as we once again have exhibited ignorance. The public needed photographic evidence to ignite significant opposition and outcry, despite Hardy’s conviction by the law. The NFLPA defended a convicted domestic violence offender and “succeeded” by reducing his punishment by six games. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may have upped the suspension by previous standards, but the punishment still does not fit the crime.

The question remains as to what is a suitable punishment for these domestic violence perpetrators. Since the Ray Rice debacle and the bad publicity that followed, the NFL has adopted the “NO MORE” campaign, which seeks to end domestic violence and sexual assault. For an organization so adamant on having “no more” lenience for domestic violence, they sure seem pretty tolerant about the issue, as they allow a horrible human being such as Hardy to be a member of their league. If the NFL genuinely wants to help alleviate and prevent the domestic violence issue and restore some of its reputation, it must institute more condemning punishments as a means of prevention. Thus, a new policy is in order: a lifetime ban from the NFL for those convicted of domestic violence.

This may seem like a steep punishment, but don’t forget that football is a job for these players. If a worker were to be convicted of domestic violence in a different setting, they would expect to quickly find themselves without a career. It’s also important to note that the NFL is stacked with talent, as there are more than 1,000 players currently employed by teams — a handful of criminals will not be missed. The powerful NFLPA, which blindly protects the players at any cost and deserves another layer of blame altogether, would likely get these lifetime suspensions reduced regardless. In Hardy’s case, the association managed to reduce his suspension by 60 percent of its initial standing. A steeper initial punishment thus becomes essential.

We must learn from this issue. Someone who is convicted of domestic violence is a criminal. We cannot wait for visual evidence — we must seek the truth and trust the justice system. Perhaps most importantly, we must educate ourselves on what domestic violence is. People seem to have the idea that domestic violence is just a push and a shove, which would explain why they were appalled to see the Rice footage and Holder’s bruises. To understand the issue is to combat it.

When Jerry Jones calls Hardy a great leader and worthy of an extension, the entire nation should recognize his senselessness. When Stephen A. Smith proudly boasts of his unencumbered support for abusers like Hardy and Floyd Mayweather, we should all acknowledge his idiocy. We must look beyond sports and examine the actual, real-life impacts of actions. Does Hardy’s talent warrant employing a despicable human being? The answer is obvious, but the NFL, the NFLPA and the public seem uncommitted and continue to waver in their responses. It is time to educate ourselves, gather our senses, and make the right decisions in properly punishing and working to prevent domestic violence.

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