The reduction in Greg Hardy’s suspension is a reminder of both the NFL’s bad old ways and the progress the league has made since then.
In reducing the Dallas Cowboys defensive end’s suspension from 10 games to four on Friday, neutral arbitrator Harold Henderson said the initial punishment was “simply too much, in my view, of an increase over prior cases.” Given that previous cases of domestic violence resulted in two-game suspensions, if anything at all, Henderson is right.
Before that horrific Ray Rice video, the NFL’s response to domestic violence was one, big yawn. Roger Goodell and his staff came down harder on players who drove drunk or got caught smoking pot than they did on the men who treated their wives, girlfriends and children as their personal punching bags.
But technically correct as Henderson may be, it’s infuriating to read the details of Hardy’s case – he was accused of beating his ex-girlfriend, tossing her onto a bed full of guns and threatening to kill her – and know he’ll sit out the same amount of games as Tom Brady. That’s right, in disciplinary terms, beating a woman is on par with the oh, so heinous crime of deflating footballs.
What’s heartening, however, is the message Henderson sent in upholding Hardy’s suspension: Behavior like Hardy’s violates the NFL’s personal conduct policy, and Goodell has every right to impose punishment for it.
“The Commissioner acted within his authority and properly exercised his discretion in finding that Hardy violated the NFL Personal Conduct Policy,” Henderson wrote. “I find that the conduct of Hardy clearly violates the letter and spirit of any version of the PCP since its inception, and of the NFL Constitution and Bylaws long before then.
“The egregious conduct exhibited here is indefensible in the NFL.”
In other words, Goodell’s new zero-tolerance policy for domestic abuse is fine. It was the retroactive application of it that Henderson found to be too much.
Hardy was convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence last July, about 10 days before Goodell imposed a two-game suspension of Rice that is now considered ridiculously light – offensively so. After a barrage of criticism, Goodell acknowledged in August that he “didn’t get it right” and that first offenses for domestic violence would now result in a six-game suspension.
Two weeks after that, the second Rice video surfaced and the ensuing fallout forced Goodell and the NFL to treat domestic violence as the serious crime that it is. In addition to developing awareness programs and hiring victim advocates, Goodell announced in December that the minimum six-game suspension could be increased for “mitigating or aggravating circumstances.”
And in the most transformative action, Goodell said conviction, even formal charges, would no longer be required to impose punishment. Without that change, Hardy might not have been suspended at all.
His initial conviction was vacated when he appealed it, and prosecutors dropped charges after Hardy’s ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, refused to cooperate. Holder accepted an out-of-court settlement from Hardy.
A four-game suspension for Hardy isn’t nearly adequate enough, and for that you can blame the lax attitude toward domestic violence that the NFL had for far too long. There aren’t many judges who would sign off on a punishment five times tougher than what was the norm when the offense was committed.
But in upholding the NFL’s new personal conduct policy, Henderson gave tacit endorsement to Goodell’s tough punishments, too. Commit domestic abuse in the future, and there will be consequences.
This article was republished with permission from the original author and 2015 Ronald Reagan Media Award recipient, Nancy Armour, and the original publisher, USA Today.