Hardy and Rice: similar stories, disparate discipline

The NFL still has a domestic violence problem.

This past offseason, Greg Hardy, a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, was suspended 10 games for assaulting his former girlfriend in May 2014. According to a Nov. 6 report from Deadspin, Hardy “[threw] her against a tile bathtub wall, tossed her on a futon covered in assault rifles, and choked her.” This suspension came after Hardy missed much of the 2014 season on the exempt list, which is different from a suspension in that players are still paid despite missing games.

After appeal, Hardy had his 10-game suspension reduced to four games, and he has been playing since Week 5. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has faced criticism from fans and media for his decision to sign and continue to start Hardy, but Jones has not bowed to suggestions that Hardy should be cut. Jones even called Hardy a “leader” during a press conference in late October, a statement that he would later reaffirm.

Hardy’s relatively short punishment – at least in terms of lost wages – is a sharp contrast to that of Ray Rice, the former Baltimore Ravens running back who was initially suspended for the majority of a season and has not since found work.

Why is there such a discrepancy between Hardy and Rice’s punishments? One reason is because Hardy is a much better player at this point in his career than Rice. Rice was coming off the worst season of his career when he was suspended. Hardy put up 15 sacks in 2013, his last full season, and was considered one of the best at his position.

Another reason for the sharp contrast is that Rice’s transgression was captured on video. The elevator security camera footage of Rice knocking his then fiancée unconscious shocked the public and led to a swift reaction from the league. There are graphic descriptions of the violence inflicted by Hardy – and images of the resulting bruises – but because there is no video evidence, Hardy gets to walk free. That isn’t right.

Hardy’s punishment is drawing a lot of negative publicity for the NFL, which is already seen as soft on the issue of domestic violence. The league will argue that an independent arbitrator reduced the suspension, so its hands are tied. But even if the league can’t officially take action, Jones and the Cowboys could still cut Hardy, and other teams could refuse to sign him. The league as a whole should be taking a stand against domestic violence, not looking the other way while it continues to profit off abusive players.