Most football coaches like the occasional fight. They privately encourage a brawl here and there during the preseason, or look the other way when a tiff breaks out in practice. It is seen as a sign of readiness for the edgy, violent aggression that is needed to win on Sundays.
Today, when Greg Hardy takes the field against the Lions, his Carolina Panthers coaches will hope he is full of such violent aggression. They want the Pro Bowl defensive end to pummel quarterback Matthew Stafford. They want him steamed and ready. So do the Panthers fans. The more Lions Hardy knocks over, the happier they will be.
The rest of the country, meanwhile, will be hearing how Hardy shouldn’t even be playing football, because of his violence off the field.
You start to see the problem.
NFL did nothing
Hardy was convicted in July of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend. A judge agreed with the woman’s story, that Hardy threw her into a bathtub, slammed a toilet seat on her arm and shoved her onto a futon filled with guns, while threatening her life.
Sounds right up there with running back Ray Rice slugging his fiancee, doesn’t it?
Except Rice is out of football right now because the Ravens released him, and Hardy is suiting up – for the second game of the season. Barely a peep was heard about Hardy playing last week. Again, this is a guy who was convicted. But in North Carolina, you can appeal a judge’s decision and seek a jury trial. Naturally, Hardy – who is earning $13.1 million this year as the Panthers’ designated franchise player – opted for an appeal.
And the NFL did nothing.
And the Panthers did nothing.
“We are letting the process play out,” Ron Rivera, the Panthers coach, told the media last week. Sure. Letting it play out works for them. Hardy’s jury trial likely won’t happen until next year. That gives the Panthers a full season of his enormous talent. Next year, he is a free agent and maybe someone else’s problem.
But it is more than that. The fact that Hardy got this far before anyone really complained (and let’s face it, it’s only the current media fire over the Rice videos that is drawing heat on Hardy) speaks to a culture where violence is part of life. NFL players are encouraged to be as aggressive and physical as possible. Hit hard. Be tough. Show no fear. Take no crap.
Same with other sports. Is it any wonder that boxer Floyd Mayweather thought the Ray Rice punishment was too severe? “I think there’s a lot worse things that go on in other people’s households,” Mayweather told the media.
Perhaps he meant his own. Mayweather, who punches people for a living, went to jail on domestic abuse charges. Boxers, wrestlers, football players and other contact sport athletes have long been stained with taking the violence home with them.
For decades, sports has looked the other way. The NFL is no exception. In the eight years since Roger Goodell has been commissioner, there have been 47 incidents of NFL players being arrested or charged for criminal violence against women, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Yet none were suspended for more than one game.
Can’t turn off violence
That is because the alternative, taking a stand, is much harder. The Panthers could sit Hardy today, but they’d have to pay him. (Pay him money and not have him tackling? Don’t hold your breath.)
The NFL, if it wanted, could suspend Hardy right now – trial or no trial. It did as much four years ago with Ben Roethlisberger, suspending the Pittsburgh quarterback for four games (reduced from six) after he was accused of sexual assault. Accused! He was never even charged, much less convicted.
But Hardy plays. The league hides behind “due process.” And anyone who thinks the Ray Rice incident was the end of domestic violence being mostly an annoyance to the NFL – rather than an irrefutable moral issue – need look no further than Lions-Panthers today.
Violence is not a sink faucet. You don’t just turn it off. Adrian Peterson, the Vikings’ star running back, was just arrested on charges of child abuse for allegedly “whooping” (his word) his 4-year-old son with a tree branch, leaving cuts and bruises on the boy’s back, ankles, legs, buttocks and scrotum (the child allegedly had his pants down). Peterson reportedly told police he saw nothing wrong with it, because it was something done to him, as discipline, growing up in Texas.
Violent environments beget violent behavior. At least the Vikings had the decency to keep Peterson out of today’s game. But these stories won’t go away. And as long as aggression is highly encouraged in one world, it seems unlikely to disappear from the other.
Contact Mitch Albom: firstname.lastname@example.org. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).