by Jacob Gurvis
The National Football League claims that it stands up against domestic violence. Sadly, commissioner Roger Goodell, actions speak louder than words. And your actions prove quite the contrary.
I am not writing to call for Goodell’s head (though I cannot say I’d be upset if he lost his job). I am not writing to bash the NFL. I am writing about accountability and morality. I am writing about Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy.
Hardy was arrested for assaulting and threatening his ex-girlfriend May 13, 2014. On July 15, a judge found Hardy guilty of those charges and he was sentenced. Hardy appealed the decision and requested a jury trial. When the victim failed to appear in court to testify, the prosecutor’s office dropped the charges. A settlement was supposedly reached, and Hardy was let off the hook.
A full year later, in April 2015, the NFL suspended Hardy for ten games for his actions, which Hardy (not surprisingly) appealed. The suspension was reduced to four games, which Hardy served at the beginning of this season. In March, the Dallas Cowboys signed Hardy to a one-year deal that could be worth up to $13.1 million with incentives.
This week, horrifying pictures of Hardy’s beaten ex-girlfriend were released, again sparking conversation on the entire situation.
This controversy has several dimensions. So let’s begin.
I am not a legal expert. I do not pretend to understand every detail of how trials and appeals work. However, I am a U.S. resident who believes in our justice system and likes to hope that the system that protects our nation can do its job. So when I see someone like Hardy receive a literal get-out-of-jail-free card, I am frustrated. I understand that he cannot be charged if the victim does not appear in court. But it saddens me that he was let go with no penalty from the law. Even one quick glance at the violent photos should be enough to prove his guilt. But sadly, this is just the tip of the iceberg.
Even more troubling to me than the legal process of the Hardy case, is the NFL’s handling of it. Over the past year, my faith in and respect for the league and Goodell have gone down the drain. Goodell has mishandled too many serious situations to merit my respect. The Hardy debacle is one of the greatest examples.
Obviously it can be dangerous to start comparing different players, cases, and offenses. However, by looking at it objectively, and just considering the suspensions, this particular one is incredibly infuriating. Hardy was handed a four game suspension. Four games. Sound familiar, Patriots fans? Regardless of your views on Deflategate, let’s just look at the suspensions. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was originally given a four-game suspension for it being “more probable than not” that he was “at least generally aware” of the alleged deflation of footballs used in the 2014 AFC Championship game against the Indianapolis Colts (he also appealed, and the suspension was removed). Then there’s Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon, who was suspended for an entire season for smoking marijuana. Hardy was given four games for nearly beating a woman to death. Talk about the punishment fitting the crime. Does that seem right? Is marijuana four times as criminal as domestic violence?
Now my biggest issue with all of this: Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
Jones has repeatedly called Hardy a leader, commended him for his talents and effort, and defended his decision to sign him. In an interview with CBS Sports in October, Jones said, “I don’t need to say it again, but in no way is anyone anything but against any type of domestic violence. They said it looks like [I’m] basically condoning domestic violence, which is not the case.” Mr. Jones, I have to strongly disagree with you here.
I obviously do not believe that Jones overtly supports domestic violence. But money talks. When you agree to hire a man such as Hardy, give him 13 million dollars, call him a leader, and defend him, Mr. Jones, you are placing his football abilities above his character, his image, and even a fraction of morality or integrity. Sure, few have Hardy’s athletic ability and football acumen. But does Hardy’s ability to sack a quarterback outweigh his actions? No.
On Sunday NFL Countdown on ESPN last Sunday, analyst Wendi Nix spoke quite powerfully about Hardy, and she articulated the issues very well. Nix started by acknowledging that it’s “simplistic” and a “bit of a slippery slope” to expect Hardy to never play again in the NFL. But, the real issue here, she said, is Jones. “Jerry Jones calls Greg Hardy a ‘leader,’” said Nix. “And Friday [he] said his organization did not condone domestic violence. Well guess what, Jerry? You. Sure. Do.”
So where do we go with all of this? Greg Hardy has been let off the hook, his charges have been dropped, his suspension significantly reduced. He’s getting paid millions of dollars to play for one of America’s most watched and famed sports franchises, all the while expressing very little (and in my opinion, fake) remorse and regret for his actions. Where did we go wrong, America? Why do we let this happen again and again?
Domestic violence is a serious issue facing our country today. Everyone recognizes that. And yet, nothing changes. I’m not writing to push legislation or call for political action. I am just a sports fan who is wondering where the integrity of our great game of football has gone. Hardy’s actions are indefensible. Few seem to dispute that, either. But, look where he is now. What gives? Do we not have the morals or the courage to deal justice because Hardy is good at football? He’s a great player. But so were Aaron Hernandez and Ray Rice.
There’s no easy solution here. Sure, start by banning Hardy from the game and maybe fire Goodell for good measure, too. But will this actually change anything? Or will talented athletes keep committing horrible crimes, getting only a slap on the wrist, and then be welcomed back to the spotlight with a heavy contract and the defense of the league?
At the end of the day, this is an issue of accountability. Greg Hardy must be held accountable for his actions. As must Goodell and Jones. And, my good readers, so must we. If money talks, if money is the language the league and Jones speak, as Nix said, then let money talk. Stop supporting the league. Force these people to be held accountable.
The NFL is a corrupt and immoral institution that places profit and ratings above any sense of ethical obligation. I love football. But each and every day I am more and more embarrassed to support such a league and call myself a football fan. Enough is enough.