Domestic violence remains an unsettling concern around the NFL

Prior to the 2015-16 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys sent shockwaves throughout the league by announcing they had signed embattled defensive lineman Greg Hardy. Earlier an elite talent for the Carolina Panthers, Hardy watched his career tumble amid allegations of domestic violence. The Cowboys’ owner and billionaire businessman, Jerry Jones, was quick to defend Hardy, insisting the top-tier defensive end was remorseful and deserved a second chance valued at $11.3 million in guaranteed money for the upcoming season. Both Hardy and Jones received nationwide backlash as everyone from sports analysts to feminist groups chimed in on their disapproval. The scrutiny was short-lived, as Hardy easily made his way back onto the field, solidifying himself early on as the strength of the Dallas defensive line. When graphic images revealing the extent of the altercation between Hardy and his then-girlfriend Nicole Holder surfaced for the first time last week, Hardy was once again thrust into the spotlight. This time, he faces remorseless scorn as many call on significant change within the NFL.

The accusations against Hardy stem from an incident on May 12, 2014. Many believe he beat Holder, leaving her with significant bruising on her body. The couple had been drinking extensively earlier that night along with Hardy’s manager Sammy Curtis and other acquaintances; Holder admits to have also been under the influence of cocaine. After many of their group fell asleep, Hardy confronted Holder over previous speculation that she was cheating, following rumors that she was seen exiting a hotel with the famous rapper Nelly. The dispute quickly escalated as Hardy became belligerent, allegedly picking Holder up off a bed and dragging her into the bathroom, before repeatedly slamming her around and tossing her on a futon ridden with numerous assault rifles.

In an interview with detective Faye Strother, Holder described the situation in her own words.  “He was gonna kill me, this is it … this is the time. He’s actually gonna do it,” she said, referencing numerous previous occasions on which Hardy had threatened to take her life. Hardy maintains a unique account of that night’s events, yelling during a 911 call, “I have a welt on my face, she just hit me twice … she’s trying to hit me with another shoe, I’m behind the bar … I’m not touching her, my … manager’s retaining her. She’s still trying to get at me.”

What happened that night might not be definitively answered, as Hardy’s trial was ultimately dismissed after Holder’s failure to comply with the investigation. His charges were expunged shortly thereafter. However, the police images that have recently materialized offer a visual perspective to the extent of the altercation, leaving little up to speculation.

Many are convinced that Hardy is a barbaric individual whose reputation has been tarnished beyond repair. Following the Cowboy’s Sunday exhibition against Philadelphia Eagles, offensive lineman Lane Johnson said in an interview, “Any time I had a chance to put a little extra mustard on a block, I tried…” This sentiment was later echoed by center Jason Kelce, who bluntly added, “I’m glad he didn’t have a good day. It’s a joke a guy like that is able to play this quickly.”

Prior to the game’s kickoff, veteran broadcaster Cris Collinsworth added his own un-withholding opinion to the matter, stating, “I didn’t want to go in and start saying, ‘Oh, boy, look at Greg Hardy ripping off the edge and getting pressure on the quarterback’ without having said at some point that I’m a husband, I’m a father, and I’m completely uncomfortable talking about this guy right now …” Many are calling on the Cowboys to release Hardy, as well as the NFL to hand down, more severe punishment.

Others were not as quick to completely give up on Hardy, as evidenced by former basketball great Charles Barkley’s special for Bleacher Report. In it, Barkley makes clear upfront that he is not downplaying the horrific acts that Hardy is accused of committing. However, Barkley warns against the psychological toll Hardy is facing from torment and instead urges the public to support Hardy in seeking help. The Hall of Famer recalled a similar incident in which current New York Jets wide receiver Brandon Marshall was able to regain control of his life and career following his own encounters with domestic violence by admitting he had an issue and ultimately pursuing help. Hardy publicly expressed remorse for the first time following the release of the pictures, via a tweet, which read, “Just had to say I express my regret 4 what happened in past and I’m Dedicated to being the best person & teammate that I can be.”

Meanwhile, there has been discussion throughout the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association calling on reform in guidelines for treating violators of the league’s personal conduct policy. Many, including former NFL safety and current NFLPA executive committee member Ryan Clark, pointed to a double standard and hypocrisy when comparing Hardy’s domestic violence incident to that of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. On track to becoming the best running in franchise history, Rice’s career was ultimately derailed after video of him striking his fiance in an elevator surfaced, leading to an indefinite suspension.

Although Rice has since been reinstated into the NFL, no team has yet taken a chance on Rice, avoiding the scrutiny associated with his potential signing. Clark is troubled with the fact that because the extent of Hardy’s altercation was not clear from the beginning, he found it easier to make his way back into the NFL, suggesting that severity of a domestic violence incident plays a role in determining a punishment as opposed to a zero tolerance approach. Furthermore, Clark maintains that big name players are given a free pass and invited back into the league following minimal punishment; while other more disposable players find themselves on a short leash, including Rice and former San Francisco defensive lineman Ray McDonald.