Greg Hardy: Should the NFL Punish Off-field Behavior?


 Greg Hardy is no stranger to controversy and neither are the Dallas Cowboys. Both player and team are under scrutiny once again, now that photos from his domestic incident from yesteryear have been released to the general public.

The pictures were fairly graphic and comprehensive. They showed the scene, the victim, and “the Hardy”. To those familiar with the case, the pictures weren’t all that surprising. Much like the video evidence of the Ray Rice incident, the visual proof prompted outrage for the seemingly illiterate masses who were unable to picture (or read) the detailed reports available months ago. The truth is, this was disgusting long ago and anyone who was paying attention shouldn’t be anymore outraged having seen the pictures.

But alas, this is an optics world and people are reinvigorated by the newly-released and truly disgusting photos that show how ugly the situation really was. National media, local news, social media, and the blogosphere have been buzzing with intolerance towards his behavior. People are again demanding action. People again are calling for his accountability. People again are calling for his job.

But why?

Should the NFL be in the business of punishing off-field behavior?

There are terrible human beings all over the professional sports world. Some we know of, and some we don’t. Greg Hardy is hardly the first player to act despicably off the field and face league/public scrutiny.

Professional athletes are constantly crossing moral, ethical, and legal lines. Some are punished. Some are not. Some face public outrage. Some slip by undetected.

The reality is this is just the nature of the beast. The NFL (and all other leagues) will always have players crossing lines. Some may go too far for me and some may go too far for you. There’s opinion and subjectivity involved in all of this.

This begs the question, should the NFL be in the business of punishing off-field behavior? Should it be any of their business? What’s despicable to them (recreational drug use) may not seem wrong to me. What seems despicable to me (adult men wearing sweatpants) may not be wrong to them.

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It would be nice if every player was a boy scout like Walter Payton, but that’s just not reality. It’s really none of our business what people do in their free time. Everyone has different morals and ethics; it gets sloppy when we try to impose our own on others. Those who break criminal laws already face criminal courts. The NFL and the public in general, don’t need to pile on and punish someone further.

I realize the Greg Hardy case is a tricky one. The case was thrown out on appeal after the victim refused to testify (allegedly reached a financial settlement with Hardy).

But while Hardy escaped the long arm of the law, it’s clear he’s not innocent in the matter, either.

We’ve argued Hardy’s “innocence” incessantly over the past few months. Anyone who thinks Hardy is innocent just because he wasn’t found guilty a second time, isn’t going to convinced otherwise at this point. Fine – Hardy is innocent, OJ didn’t do it, and Santa is for real. Believe what you want because it shouldn’t matter anyway.

Instead of arguing whether Hardy is bad person in need of further punishment, let’s ask why we think it’s our responsibility (or the NFL’s) to punish him further. It’s exhausting to think it’s our responsibility (or even “right”) to play the moral police every day.

If someone commits a crime, isn’t it enough for the justice system to handle? Why do we feel the need to jump in as well? We may not want Josh Gordon smoking weed all day, but as long as he’s doing his job, making practices and games, and performing up to his contract, that should be enough.

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I don’t go to football games and cheer for the Cowboys because I approve of the character of their players. No, I cheer for their actions on the field. It would be exhausting to have to screen and vet every player to determine their worthiness. I’m not going to single out and chastise Hardy just because I’m unknowing of all the other despicable behavior being done by others on the team. I guarantee there’s others.

Now, if I was the decision maker of the team, I wouldn’t want to add players with dubious off-the-field behavior. Often times, if they are risky off the field, then they are risky on the field. I wouldn’t have signed Hardy this offseason, but that’s just me.

But I don’t blame the Cowboys for doing so, nor am I going to demand action. It’s their choice who they want to employ and what level of risk they are willing to assume. Frankly, if I screen teams based on the quality of men off the field, I’d probably have to stop watching professional sports. It’s completely unrealistic to think one team is 100% boy scouts.

The point is, we can argue all day about what is acceptable behavior and what is not. We can argue about what suitable punishments should be as well. But how is it our right to judge others? The criminal and civil court exist for a reason. Do we feel entitled just because we are consumers who buy the product?

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The answer is yes, but perhaps it shouldn’t be.