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Domestic abuse remains a major issue in the NFL

By Isaac Rosso Klakovich

Greg Hardy has been at the center of a domestic abuse scandal in the past year
Greg Hardy has been at the center of a domestic abuse scandal in the past year

The trend of domestic abuse in the NFL players has dipped in and out of the spotlight for years, only to be noted in the media once again by the recent Greg Hardy case.

Known for its emphasis on discipline on the field, the NFL has had a hard time exercising these same principles for its players off the field. Recently the league has come under criticism for not handing out harsh enough punishments for domestic abuse incidents.

Some players, more than others, seemingly dependent on their “star quality,” have not faced justice, lying upon the notion that everyone deserves a second chance. But what can be done, if anything, if those second chances become third, fourth, or even fifth chances?

Hardy, defensive end for the lucrative Dallas Cowboys, was scrutinized this year when a transcript of the 911 call and photos resulting from his alleged 2014 assault towards his girlfriend, Nicole Holder, in N.C. were published by Deadspin last month (during his tenure with the Carolina Panthers). Many called for his suspension, but the Cowboys have decided to keep Hardy for the sake of forgiveness, if not for the sake of their expanding wallets. The case was dismissed this past February, as it is alleged that Hardy and Holder reached an out-of-court settlement.

Hardy was convicted of assault last year but was acquitted on appeal when his former girlfriend declined to testify; she received a settlement as part of a civil suit. Hardy was suspended with pay for 10 games this year before he appealed, and a league-appointed arbitrator reduced the punishment to only four games.

We have a very strong domestic violence policy in the NFL,” said Cowboys’ coach Jerry Jones, inadvertently revealing an inconsistency. In the case of some issues, and there are a handful of them, you get one chance, and if you mess that up, then you don’t get a chance again.”

A similar situation occurred last year with free agent Ray Rice then of the Baltimore Ravens, who was arrested and subsequently indicted for third-degree aggravated assault on his then-fiancee, now wife. He was filmed in an elevator punching her once and the blow left her unconscious. Rice’s contract was terminated by the Ravens on Sept. 8, 2014, following the release of an additional video of the incident. He was subsequently suspended indefinitely by the NFL, only to be reinstated after he successfully appealed the decision in federal court. The only consequence of his actions appears to be a defamed name.

“This isn’t about games or football; it’s about the bigger picture,” stated Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay after the Ray Rice incident.It’s about life itself. If that situation had escalated, the woman could have died and a little girl could have grown up without a mother.”

Jones, who signed Hardy this season, has defended Hardy even though the player has shown little remorse. The attention only increased since as the Cowboys played on Sunday, Nov. 8 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“You have to be sincere in your actions. Show it on and off the field. Take that uniform and use it for what it’s worth. You don’t have to win another football game, you don’t need another dollar to go out and make a difference in other peoples’ lives,” said Rice to USA Today, who, unlike Hardy, has worked with charities that prevent domestic abuse and definitely regrets his actions.

Others in the NFL community are truly upset with the lack of remorse Hardy displayed as well. Some of his actions that have been most criticized are his prominent role in musician Jā Alan’s music video “I’m Just Me” and his off hand comments to the press. The music video prominently features strippers as well as Hardy saying: “I’m just me, I’m just real. And that’s all that I do.” Before Hardy played his first game with the Cowboys, he told reports that he could come and “guns blazing,” and also made inappropriate comments concerning New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s wife.

Have you seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game,” Hardy told the press. “I hope her sister comes to the game, all her friends come to the game. One of my favorite games of the year, guys.”

The NFL seems undecided on how their players should be penalized, if at all, for their personal conduct. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized for his inconsistency in punishment for his players, seemingly case-by-case, dependent on their off-field antics. Goodell’s ruling for Hardy has been seen overall as too kind. However, if Hardy were to be suspended for this repeat offense, the league would no doubt be taken to court. The league additionally cannot have teams “shun” Hardy, as it would be accused of collusion, or playing favorites. Essentially, by law, unions must represent their members, despite any despicable acts they may perform.

The punishment policy for domestic violence was updated after the Rice case by Goodell last year; it now includes suspensions of at least six games for first offenses and possible lifetime bans for a second offense.

William Gay is a very vocal advocate against domestic abuse
William Gay is a very vocal advocate against domestic abuse

Despite all the terrible reports, there are NFL players taking a stand against domestic violence. Leading the charge is Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay, whose mother Carolyn Hall was killed by his stepfather after she tried to leave him when Gay was only eight years old. Gay often goes to shelters for battered women where he helps them as well as prevents domestic violence from entering their lives again. Gay has also gotten some of his teammates involved, explaining that former Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor accompanied him on some of his visits.

“You tend to hear about domestic violence here and there, often in passing reference. But now that it has directly affected our league in such a public way, I hope all of us in the NFL can take the next steps to help prevent it,” said Gay in a piece he wrote for sportswriter Peter King’s website The Monday Morning Quarterback.

Many advisors urge Goodell to focus more on rehabilitation of the abusive player, rather than punishment. This would steer the view of domestic violence in the NFL to be more similar to the view of drug abuse, particularly that of performance-enhancing drugs. This different approach may actually be effective in improving the culture of NFL players and those close to them.

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