Greg Hardy and Domestic Violence in the NFL

CONTENT WARNING: Domestic Violence

Greg Hardy is a 27-year-old defensive end who has played for the Carolina Panthers and Dallas Cowboys during his five-year career. While he is a dominant on-field presence at times, the young star has recently gained notoriety for a series of off-the-field issues that have many people up in arms.

On May 13, 2014, Nicole Holder fled Hardy’s Charlotte, North Carolina apartment, covered in bruises and lacerations and encountered the police. Hardy was arrested that same night, for “grabbing the victim and throwing to the floor, throwing into a bathtub, throwing against a futon and strangling her.” It turns out the extent of the abuse was far greater.

Holder met the NFL star in 2012 and began dating him in September 2013. The two of them shared a tumultuous relationship. According to Holder’s testimony, their relationship soured in earnest after Christmas of 2014 (they started living together in November), when Hardy began asking things like “Why are you doing this to us?” and calling her a slut. The two of them broke up early in the spring, but stayed in each other’s lives, having sexual relations several times in early 2014, according to Hardy.

A harrowing report by Deadspin details the events of the night itself. Reportedly, Hardy and Holder had been drinking and doing cocaine with friends and colleagues. At the end of the night, heavily intoxicated, the two of them were talking alone when Hardy allegedly brought up past conflicts and accused her of destroying their relationship. Their conversation turned violent. According to Holder’s testimony, Hardy pushed her when she attempted to get up, and she started fighting back. The 6’ 5” professional athlete proceeded to throw her into the bathroom, where she hit the shower wall and fell into the bathtub, before dragging her out by her hair and throwing her onto a futon covered with loaded weapons (when arrested he turned over 10 firearms). He then proceeded to strangle her with both hands, leaving prominent marks around her neck and jaw, while threatening to kill her.

Despite being found guilty of assault and communicating threats, the case fell apart on appeal when a 10 million dollar settlement led to the prosecutor’s office dropping the charges and allowed Hardy to come away with merely probation. He allegedly showed no remorse during the entirety of the process. For the NFL, however, this came in the context of a series of scandals, including domestic violence cases against stars Ray Rice, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson. Hardy’s team at the time, the Panthers, deactivated him after the first game, and in September 2014 the league placed him on the ‘exempt’ list (meaning he couldn’t partake in team activities, but would get paid). The league then initiated an investigation that resulted in a 10-game suspension, which was later reduced to four. Hardy signed with the Dallas Cowboys in March of this year in a highly contentious move and has been playing for them this season after serving his suspension.

This season, Hardy has been as dominant as ever on the field, but has been a controversial figure from the start. From inappropriate comments about Tom Brady’s wife (and her sister) to tasteless jokes about 9/11, it didn’t take long for him to reveal his true colors to Dallas. Furthermore, on the sideline during a game, he pushed an assistant coach and got into a heated exchange with both him and star receiver Dez Bryant. Rather than reprimand him, however, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones dubbed him an important “leader” and has supported him steadfastly throughout the season.

This scandal epitomizes several integral issues with the NFL’s punitive process. Firstly, there is simply no continuity from case to case, with Ray Rice’s career likely over after one punch (obviously NOT trivializing that, simply highlighting the disconnect) and Tom Brady being initially given an equivalent, four-game ban for potentially deflating footballs. Perhaps more ridiculously, Browns receiver Josh Gordon has missed two years for marijuana usage, to the point where his career might be over. This greatly damages the league’s credibility. The slew of high profile domestic violence cases has highlighted the NFL’s reactionary nature as well as its lack of infrastructure around prevention and management of domestic violence cases. The NFL is also sending the message that, as long as your talent outweighs your issues, your issues can be ignored. Beyond the ethics of communicating this idea to fans, the blatant apathy of the league enables further behavior rather than combats it. This applies not only to Hardy but also to other players, both those around the league and those rising through youth ranks. Furthermore the NFL is reiterating the prevalent notion that athletes are somehow exemptible from long-term consequences, regardless of vulgarity, and specifically trivializes the severity of domestic violence cases. This is wrong, especially given the NFL’s significance to countless boys and young men across America with developing moral compasses.

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