NFL Domestic Violence Policy Reeks of Hypocrisy

From Rice to Hardy, the NFL has done little to enforce a policy on domestic violence

The NFL’s controversies seem to grow along with the league’s popularity in the past few years. Poorly handled situations—like player safety and fining players who wear cleats to support their own personal causes—have come into clearer focus for NFL watchers. But nothing has been as mishandled as the way the NFL has handled domestic violence incidents with its players.

In his nine-year tenure as commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell has repeatedly shown leniency in regards to punishing players arrested for domestic violence. One can look at this comprehensive list put together by Deadspin to see numerous examples of players getting off scot-free.

In the last few seasons, Dez Bryant was arrested for assaulting his mother, Darryl Washington allegedly grabbed his ex-girlfriend by the throat and shoved her to the ground, and Terrell Suggs was accused of punching his girlfriend in the neck and dragging her alongside a moving car. None of these three players received any punishment from the NFL.

In his nine-year tenure as commissioner of the NFL, Roger Goodell has repeatedly shown leniency in regards to punishing players arrested for domestic violence.

The storm surrounding the league’s handling of domestic violence got much worse after the incident involving Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice came to the public eye in 2014. After a drunken dispute, Ray Rice punched his fiancé in an elevator, and footage was shown of him literally dragging her unconscious body out.

The footage that was initially released by TMZ only showed the aftermath of the event, and not the actual violence. With this evidence, Goodell suspended Rice for a mere two games.

Flickr | Gavin's Goods

Flickr | Gavin’s Goods

Part of the NFL’s defense of this incident was that they hadn’t really seen what happened in the elevator. But when footage was released of the actual incident, again by TMZ, it was revealed by many reporters that Goodell had full access to the video as he weighed the punishment for Rice.

Goodell and the NFL knew this looked bad, and they came up with a plan to at least alleviate this damage. After the video became public, Goodell stated adamantly: “We will get our house in order.” The first step was getting Rice as far away from the game as possible, with both the Ravens and the NFL essentially ostracizing him from the league.

Goodell’s second step was to pledge that the NFL would “do more” in regards to domestic violence. This involved the NFL pairing up with the domestic violence prevention organization “No More.” The organization does not call itself a non-profit, has a staff of just four employees, and is mostly an awareness tool rather than an organization that takes action. But on the surface, it looked like the NFL was making an effort.

It was hard for many fans to believe that the NFL would do anything notable surrounding domestic violence prevention, especially given the league’s history. This has proven especially true in the wake of the saga surrounding current Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy.

Greg Hardy came into the league as part of the Carolina Panthers in 2010 and was a defensive stud in the 2012 season, racking up 11 sacks. In 2013, he made the Pro Bowl, setting a franchise record 15 sacks.

Hardy was set to be a defensive force for Carolina for years to come, until May 13, 2014 when he was arrested for—and found guilty of—domestic violence. In an especially gruesome attack, Hardy’s girlfriend, Nicole Holder, claimed that Hardy had thrown her against a tile bathroom wall, tossed her on a futon covered in assault rifles, and choked her. Hardy was put on paid leave for all but one game of the 2014 season while his trial played out.

Hardy was suspended for the first four games of the 2015 season, but had his contract picked up by the Dallas Cowboys even though many fans and onlookers around the league said that Hardy still had no place in the NFL. The Cowboys were desperately in need of a talented pass rusher, so they sprang for Hardy despite his troubled past. He’s played well for the team so far, with four sacks and an interception in four games.

On Nov. 6 of this year, Deadspin released pictures showing bruises covering Holder’s body the night after she was assaulted. Many people thought that this would have at least been the equivalent of the turning point in the Ray Rice case, and that Hardy would be released from his NFL contract later that day. Yet nothing happened.

After the photos were released, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones pledged his support for Hardy, saying: “We have given [Hardy] a second chance. He is a member of our team and someone who is grateful for the opportunity he has been given to move forward with his life and his career.” However, Greg Hardy has shown little to no remorse for the incident and since his return to the NFL, has made sexist comments, and fought with teammates and coaches.

The transcript of Hardy’s trial was later released and showed a bizarre side of the events in Hardy’s favor. Hardy’s lawyer portrayed his client as the victim and painted a case that Holder was a “sex-crazed groupie.” He even claimed that Holder “tripped and fell” into the bathtub rather than being thrown into it. The NFL representatives attending the trial hardly challenged this stance by Hardy’s lawyer.

The Cowboys, along with the NFL, have made their stances clear. As long as you’re good enough, there’s a place for you on our team. Even with overwhelming evidence that you’re a batterer of women.

Part of the reason Ray Rice has yet to find a spot on an NFL roster while Hardy’s still collects paychecks is Rice’s declining skill set and perceived toxicity. He was approaching 30, an age where most running backs face a steep decline. Most players that have been released after domestic violence disputes are nowhere near stars and can be seen as easily replaceable.

The Cowboys sit at 3-8 on the season, and if they weren’t hurting so hard for a defensive lineman, they may have released Hardy in an attempt to “take a stand” on domestic violence. But he’s been a force on the football field and remains one of the best pass rushers in the league.

The Cowboys, along with the NFL, have made their stances clear. As long as you’re good enough, there’s a place for you on our team. Even with overwhelming evidence that you’re a batterer of women.