Greg Hardy is a Bad Human Being and a Good Football Player

My favorite sports team employs a thug.


Greg Hardy hits people for a living. He starred as a pass rusher, who was quite good at applying violence to opposing quarterbacks, for the University of Mississippi. He was drafted in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers and wildly exceeded expectations, making the Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro in 2013.

Alas, Hardy also likes to hit women.

In the 2014 offseason, as summarized by Wikipedia, “Hardy was arrested for assault and communicating threats, after he was alleged to have assaulted an ex-girlfriend by grabbing her, throwing her into furniture, strangling her, and threatening to kill her. On July 15, a judge found him guilty of assaulting a female and communicating threats, and sentenced to him 18 months probation, suspending a 60-day jail sentence. When Hardy appealed the decision – requesting a jury trial – the victim failed to appear in court to testify. As a result, the prosecutor’s office dropped the charges, citing their inability to locate the victim, and ‘reliable information’ that the two parties had reached a civil settlement.”

Reading between the lines, Hardy paid off his victim. But, according to North Carolina law, Hardy was never convicted. Despite the language of “appeal,” the jury trial would have been de novo; the previous “conviction” by the judge never officially happened.

Nonetheless, in an offseason where Ray Rice, Ray McDonald and Adrian Peterson all generated massive negative publicity for incidences of domestic violence (Rice and McDonald against women, Peterson against his 4-year-old son) Hardy was put on a paid suspension by the NFL for the final 15 games of the 2014 season.

Hardy became a free agent and, on March 18 of this year, Hardy signed a one-year, $11.3 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys, who I have rooted for just shy of four decades.

Wikipedia picks it up from there:


On April 22, 2015, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Hardy for 10 games, after the league’s 2 month long investigation found that there was “sufficient credible evidence” that Hardy had engaged in conduct which “violated NFL policies in multiple respects and with aggravating circumstances.” The league’s investigation had concluded that Hardy used physical force in at least four instances, including placing his hands around the victim’s neck with enough pressure to leave visible marks, and that his actions were “a significant act of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.”

On July 10, 2015, an arbiter reduced Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four games.

The arbiter was correct in doing so. While the NFL’s findings were credible, four games was the maximum penalty allowed under the collective bargaining agreement. The League’s attempt to impose harsh penalties for actions that predated the huge public backlash stemming from the Rice incident, in particular, was understandable but had been rebuked multiple times by the courts. Four games is an absurdly low penalty, especially in contrast with penalties allowed by much less egregious infractions under the CBA, but it was in fact all the League was allowed to impose.

This past Thursday, the domestic violence charges were officially expunged from Hardy’s record. Whether coincidentally or not, the following day Deadspin released police photographs showing the bruises on the woman Hardy battered, renewing public outrage over the incident.

Predictably, calls are now coming for the Cowboys to fire Hardy. They won’t be heeded.  Nor should they.

There’s no new news here. As with the release of the video showing Rice hitting his then-fiance (now wife), these photos merely depict what we already knew. This is what domestic violence looks like.

Hardy is a thug. He’s also a great football player. Sadly, the two go together with some frequency. A lot of really horrible human beings have plied their trade hitting quarterbacks, in particular. At least one of them currently makes his living as a quarterback. We just happen to have indisputable visual evidence in Hardy’s case.

Like it or not—and I don’t—Hardy is a free man.  In the eyes of the law, he did not commit a crime. He’s already served the maximum penalty the NFL can impose.

Just because teams were free to sign Hardy doesn’t mean they had to. After all, no one signed Rice. But Rice is a running back, a position that has been devalued by NFL teams in recent years, whose best years were behind him before the incident. Hardy is a pass rusher, behind quarterback the most valuable position in the game, in his prime. If the Cowboys hadn’t signed him, any of the other 31 teams would have.

In a perfect world, universities would populate their rosters with true student-athletes and professional rosters would be filled with well-rounded individuals who are worthy role models for our youth. Sadly, coaches and general managers who followed that virtuous path would quickly find themselves unemployed while the competition eagerly scooped up the Greg Hardys, Ben Roethlisbergers, Ray Rices, and Kobe Bryants. Ultimately, we judge our sports teams by their performance on the field, not the content of their character.


FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Sports, , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Guarneri says:

    The societal phenomenon of unquestioning fan and organizational support (unlike your honest stance) is no different that OTB commenters support for, say, Obama and Hillary, at obviously absurd claims of Youtube videos causing terrorist attacks: “hooray for our side” and “they can win.”

    A legitimate line of inquiry is the apparent, and I think real, disproportionate incidence in football and basketball.

  2. ernieyeball says:

    Violence perpetrated by citizens against other citizens is unacceptable. That is why we have laws against assault and battery and other abusive behavior.
    On the other hand when politicians threaten to kill citizens who do not kow tow to their politically correct interpretation of United States history it is dismissed by some as a “joke”.

    HUCKABEE: I don’t know anyone in America who is a more effective communicator [than David Barton.] I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be something like a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced — at gun point no less — to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.

  3. Tony W says:

    It is getting harder and harder to be an NFL fan….. Between the Felony Football patterns, the too-prevalent-to-ignore injuries, the raw money-grabbing sponsorship deals, de-facto public-funding of stadiums and the odd restrictions upon distribution I’m getting fed up with the whole thing.

  4. James Joyner says:

    @ernieyeball: That’s a rather lame joke but I’m not sure what it’s supposed to be proof of.

    @Tony W: Agreed all around. It’s always been a gladiator sport but we now have a lot more information than we used to about how gladiatorial. Too many of these people are a genuine menaces to society and most of them are putting their long-term well being on the line with every play. And they’re getting bigger and faster season by season.

  5. anjin-san says:

    The Harbaugh era in SF was the last straw for me as far as NFL football goes. It was very clear that character did not count. The SF Giants, on the other hand, have proven that you can win professional championships and insist on a certain level of character and decorum in your organization.

  6. Pinky says:

    Sports teams are ultimately responsible to the fans. No support, no revenue. Plenty of losing teams remain profitable, and plenty of winning teams fail to capture the public’s interest. Some of the 31 other teams may have been willing to sign him, but one did, and if the public chooses to judge the Cowboys on that decision, they are free to do so. Not to go political on this thread, but it’s the same as the parties: their success is determined by their support, which is a function of public opinion as well as of their policies’ successes. A Vitter or a Hardy doesn’t have to be accepted.

  7. Tyrell says:

    I don’t think that I would go back to a pro game even if someone gave me free tickets. You still have to shell out a bundle to park. And $5 for a hot dog ? Forget it. Professional, major league sports has gone beyond commercialization.e
    I went to a small, local college game a few years ago. A nice, cool fall afternoon. Admission was a few dollars and you could bring in your own food and drinks ! Some people sat on some grassy areas nearby. Everyone had close seats. No luxury boxes. After the game, the people and players got together for a few minutes and then we left, which took about five minutes to walk to the car and leave.
    “Pro” games ? No thanks.

  8. John Thacker says:

    Can we assume that people who believe that the Cowboys should not sign Hardy also think that the President and others are wrong to want to “ban the box” in hiring? I think it is possible to make a nuanced argument in favor of firing hardy and still “banning the box,” but it requires nuance and should therefore avoid demonizing people who fall on the other side of either issue.

  9. al-Ameda says:

    I’m not sure the incidence of criminal behavior is any greater among professional athletes than it is among the population generally. The thing is, multi-millionaire athletes are high profile people, and in this day of instantaneous, in-the-momen, communication, it seems as though every transgression (major and minor) is immediately publicized. That certainly is not the case with average working people, who may or may not be committing odious acts and/or crimes as well. And don’t think for a moment that college athletics are not populated with bad actors as well. Individuals who are unsavory populate nearly every avenue of life in our country.

    As others have said, if we (fans) do not want our professional teams to employ guys like Greg Hardy or Ray Rice, then stop attending the games, by affecting the revenue streams you may force team ownership to make different personnel decisions … may, might, possibly. No guarantees.

  10. DrDaveT says:

    They won’t be heeded. Nor should they.

    Unless you are making a claim about what is in the long-term best financial interests of the owners of the Cowboys — and I suspect you are not — what is your basis for “should” here? If management decides that the bad PR offsets the on-field value, they “should” fire him, presumably while mouthing platitudes about moral values. If they decide that the overall package of bad PR and good play is a net positive for the franchise, they “should” keep him, with as little fanfare as possible.

    He’s already served the maximum penalty the NFL can impose.

    But not the maximum penalty the Cowboys can impose, which is to cut him outright.

    Either this is about moral issues, or it’s about a business decision in an entertainment industry. There’s no middle ground. In the former case, it doesn’t matter whether Hardy is “a free man”. In the latter, it doesn’t even matter whether he’s actually guilty.

  11. James Joyner says:

    @al-Ameda: I don’t know that pro football players are more prone to off-field violence than the general population. But we’re not emotionally invested in people with regular jobs in the same way as we are our athletes. It’s weird to be in a position to root for Greg Hardy to commit acts of violence against opposing quaterbacks.

    @DrDaveT: We don’t disagree on this:

    If management decides that the bad PR offsets the on-field value, they “should” fire him, presumably while mouthing platitudes about moral values. If they decide that the overall package of bad PR and good play is a net positive for the franchise, they “should” keep him, with as little fanfare as possible.

    The Cowboys are willing to put up with the taint and distraction that comes with Hardy because he’s so dominant on the football field. So would, I’d wager, 20 or more other teams. A backup-type player with Hardy’s past wouldn’t get a second look by any franchise.

  12. bill says:

    they knew he was a scumbag when they hired him- the cowboys have 0.0 integrity when it comes to winning any any cost. it’s been nearly 20 yrs since they did anything in the playoffs and are that desperate. i mean really, this team is undisciplined and proud of it- just like their owner.
    jones is well known for treating his wife like garbage and running around town banging anyone he can- but it’s “ok” as he controls a lot of the media with his advertising budget.
    heck, just in the past few years they had one of their players die in a car wreck (driven by a starter who was hammered). he was allowed back on the team…..but retired soon after.
    they also took that wack job from chicago (tank johnson) and can’t seem to realize that dez bryant isn’t much better (he did smack his momma around a few years back)
    sure, they do have a few upstanding players who are solid role models but that doesn’t cut it, they’ll take any human detritus if it’ll help the “team”…..

  13. JohnMcC says:

    Dr Joyner, you notice that the professional football player grows bigger, stronger and faster every year and that there seems to be quite often uncontrolled and inappropriate violence when personal relationships become frustrating and tense.

    Does it seem likely that there is a causal connection?

    Hummmm……. But that would be cheating. So it can’t be.

  14. Ken in NJ says:

    @al-Ameda: I’m not sure the incidence of criminal behavior is any greater among professional athletes than it is among the population generally.

    It’s not. In fact, it’s lower than the general population pretty much across the board for all types of crime. The difference between types of crime isn’t constant, though – theft, for example is extremely rare (by orders of magnitude) among NFL players when compared to the general population. Domestic violence, on the other hand, or non-violent firearms offeses have rates within the NFL that are within spitting distance of general population rates. But again, still lower. It’s a different story entirely when you limit the comparison by age and wealth levels, especially with respect to DV, guns, and drugs

    But it’s a complicated issue, and the little bit of real world analysis that has been done isn’t particularly comprehensive. There’s not enough data, really, and what there is isn’t all of the same quality or level of detail. There are also more than a few confounding factors – for example, all other things being equal, is the partner of a famous rich football player more or less likely to report domestic violence? Is a cop more or less likely to turn a blind eye to that joint if it’s being carried by a linebacker from his favorite team?

    TL;DR: Yeah, it’s “about” the same as the general population in most categories