The lynch mob reconvened Friday.
“Greg Hardy should never play another down in the NFL,” said a national talk show host (Adam Schein, SiriusXM).
“Is this still a man you want . . . to enrich with a new long-term contract?” asked a national sports Web site columnist (Jane McManus, espnW).
“Let’s hope the release of these photos will do what the NFL could not do: punish Hardy as he should be punished, by losing his career for good,” demanded a national newspaper sports columnist (Christine Brennan, USA Today).
It was explicable.
It was misguided.
And it was disproportionate.
It was easy to understand why people — particularly of my mother’s gender, my other half’s gender and my daughter’s gender — frothed after seeing for the first time four dozen photos (courtesy of Deadspin’s sleuths) of a woman’s bruised body that evidenced the violence she, Nicole Holder, said she suffered May 13, 2014, at the hands of Hardy in his downtown Charlotte apartment. Hardy, 6 feet 4, 278 pounds, was the star defensive lineman then for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers. Hardy was arrested that day on two misdemeanor charges of “assault on a female and communicating threats,” like throwing Holder on a pile of guns as a suggestion of what more he’d do to her.
Two months later, Hardy was convicted in a bench trial of both charges and sentenced to a suspended 60-day jail term and 18 months probation. He appealed immediately and requested a jury trial.
Hardy, nonetheless, played in the Panthers’ season opener last year. It took place one day before the infamous video (courtesy of TMZ.com) surfaced of then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice KO’ing his then-fiancee, Janay Palmer, in an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator.
That was when the lynch mob first convened.
The NFL responded, too. The Ravens quickly released Rice from his contract and the league suspended him for an indefinite period. The Panthers then removed Hardy from their active roster, and the league suspended Hardy, though with pay, until his case was resolved.
In February, a Superior Court dismissed the charges against Hardy citing Holder’s failure to avail herself to the court, and cited reports that she’d reached a civil settlement with Hardy — or, in other words, was paid off.
Hardy signed with Dallas. The NFL then suspended him without pay for the first 10 games of this season for attacking Holder. Hardy appealed and the league reduced his punishment to four games. He played his fourth game this season Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hardy proved upon his return to playing that he was every bit the lout, if not more, the Holder case revealed him to be. He spent his downtime making a rap video extolling guns and threatening women. He made his eye black look like it was war paint. He announced he was coming back “guns blazing” and showed an inability to tamp down his emotion on the sidelines or after the violence of the games was well over.
The photos of Holder confirmed for the public what was availed to the justice system about Hardy, or alluded to by the historical specter of domestic violence. In between, nothing changed. It seems to me insulting to victims that we aren’t as apoplectic about their testimony, or the findings of investigators, as we are about stills and film.
It is the justice system, however, at which the most agitated among us over the Hardy story should direct their animus. Lobby to get the laws addressing domestic violence in North Carolina and New Jersey, and elsewhere where they may be lax, amended for the safety of intimates everywhere. After all, neither Hardy nor Rice ducked or dodged the criminal justice system. Defendants in North Carolina convicted of misdemeanors in trials by judges have the right to request trials by jury in Superior Court. Hardy fit that bill. The second trial was not considered double jeopardy because Hardy was going through what was considered an appeal.
However, if the NFL were to suspend Hardy because of the photos made public Friday, that essentially would be a second punishment for the same crime, and a crime for which Hardy technically was acquitted. Our government, via the Fifth Amendment, frowns upon such action. The NFL isn’t a governing body, of course, but that very American tenet can’t be ignored.
Similarly, Rice was charged with felony aggravated assault, but as a first-time offender in New Jersey, he was allowed the option of entering a pretrial intervention program that could lead to the charge being expunged if he successfully completed the program. He did just that, but he hasn’t been able to find employment again in the NFL, with his old team or another one, benefiting from one of America’s canons, a second chance.
Friday, protesters began demanding, again, that a second chance be denied Hardy because he is, by their standards, incorrigible, no matter that the justice system unburdened him.
It is a protest that in its disproportion has colored the social scourge of domestic violence in this country as a sports problem, as a football problem and a black male problem. It reined in any ire over an offseason investigation into a possible sexual assault by NHL star Patrick Kane. Kane’s accuser, much like Hardy’s, told an Erie (N.Y.) County District Attorney’s office that she no longer wanted to cooperate. It drew no parallels to the case of Alabama federal judge Mark Fuller, who for months kept his job despite entering into a plea deal, not unlike Rice’s, to expunge his arrest in August 2014 for assaulting his wife. It made no ties to playboy tech multimillionaire, Gurbaksh Chahal, who was ousted from his position as CEO at RadiumOne in April 2014 following a plea bargain down to two misdemeanor counts of battery after a half-hour attack on his then-girlfriend captured on security video, featuring him beating and kicking her 117 times.
As I wrote more than a year ago in the American Journalism Review, much of our opining about the implications of cases like Hardy’s does a disservice to the broad campaign to stamp out domestic violence. I was reminded of what the president and CEO of the Center for Victims in Pittsburgh, Laura MacDonald, pointed out on an NPR show I was on then: “Domestic violence doesn’t know any income level or any particular profession. I’ve seen heart surgeons, I’ve seen unemployed mill workers, all sorts of people commit violent acts against women.”
MacDonald was particularly critical of an announcement last year from a bipartisan group of female senators arguing that the NFL shouldn’t allow abusers of women to have a second chance at playing football as evidence of how our talking and writing about cases like Hardy’s, almost solely, led efforts against domestic violence astray. A year later, we haven’t changed.
Kevin B. Blackistone, ESPN panelist and visiting professor at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, writes sports commentary for The Post.