How NFL's Roger Goodell Got It Right With Greg Hardy Suspension
NEW YORK -- When the NFL made its decision to suspend Greg Hardy for 10 games, it was a very different conversation than the one that took place last July regarding the initial two-game suspension for Ray Rice.
This time, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell gathered a new group at his in-office conference table, one that included Anna Isaacson, who has become steeped in the issue of domestic violence through the NFL's work with activists, an author of the Violence Against Women Act in Cynthia Hogan, and former Manhattan sex crimes prosecutor Lisa Friel.
Friel completed an investigation of the case against Hardy, one that initially ended in a conviction before his appeal was halted by settling out of court with Nicole Holder. In order to get insight into the initial conviction, the NFL filed legal motions to be granted access to exhibits in the case -- and was granted the right to view photos and evidence from Hardy's arrest on May 13, 2014.
Hardy initially was found guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill Holder. A judge found that Hardy threw her down on a bed of assault rifles and he faked a 911 call to frame Holder after she and another woman already had called the emergency line.
The details in this case are gruesome -- and the violence more drawn out than Rice's elevator scene.
But this time, the league fought to see the photos -- photos the public still hasn't seen.
This conversation on discipline had to be different, because Goodell didn't rely on his gut, or a misguided meeting in which Janay Rice was asked to speak on behalf of her husband in front of his employers, to issue a wholly inadequate two-game suspension.
Instead, Goodell listened to the facts and the context. He heard the injuries Holder sustained on her neck were evidence of being choked, and that domestic violence experts are concerned that this action is associated with greater violence and injury to victims. He took into account the reason Hardy's case came to a legal end wasn't based on new facts or information, but on a technicality that allowed Hardy to pay Holder to stay home and stay silent.
Hardy, for his part, cooperated only up to a point. He and his lawyers never confirmed nor denied the settlement despite the NFL's questions, according to a news release announcing the 10-game suspension. The NFL expects players to cooperate with investigations as part of their employment, and penalties can increase if they don't. It's all part of the "it's-a-privilege-to-play-here" mentality.
Now, Hardy faces a massive paycut, from a possible $13 million to potentially around $5 million. Last season, although he only played one game, Hardy still received his entire paycheck.
Agree with the NFL's new approach or not, but it's here to stay. There were three players -- Rice, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Hardy -- who fell between the old code of conduct policy and the new one, and Hardy was the last. The 10 games -- which Goodell carefully said would be appropriate under either policy -- puts NFL teams on notice. You may take a risk on a player like Hardy, Jerry Jones, but it won't always pay off.
The reason Rice won his appeal was that he was suspended twice essentially. In her decision, neutral arbitrator Barbara Jones said she would have been hard-pressed to find Goodell "abused his discretion" had an indefinite suspension been the initial one.
Whether Goodell's hedge is enough to prevent an imposed revision is another question. There was no risk in issuing 10 games, because it would have been appealed anyway. This sends a message to the league about penalties going forward.
It's also worth noting that part of Hardy's discipline includes a clinical evaluation. Hardy is directed to undergo counseling if that is the recommendation. But Hardy has never admitted to any wrongdoing. The Cowboys have said they want to help Hardy with this second chance, but if Hardy truly believes he did nothing wrong, it's hard to see how any of these projected remedies can help.
There are still plenty of Hardy supporters who feel like he's been wronged by being forced to sit for nearly a season before even starting his 10-game suspension. There are others who say the fact that he is not legally guilty should prevent any penalty despite the findings of a judge in the only legal evaluation of evidence.
Still more may laud Hardy's suspension but worry what NFL justice could mean for players accused of a crime they didn't commit. (Something that hopefully any investigation would also unearth.)
But the NFL's days of looking the other way in instances of domestic violence are thankfully over. Of course, the NFL wouldn't have undertaken this overhaul if not for a massive backlash to the initial Rice suspension, but you can't unring that bell.
The NFL has a new way of determining discipline, with professionals at the table who can ascertain the facts so Goodell doesn't have to.
It's a new era of accountability, even when that means waiting until you've seen all the photos.