In the past six months, the NFL has done an about-face on the way it handles domestic violence cases. Now the personal code of conduct policy specifically addresses the issue, and independent investigations will be launched into alleged acts going forward.
So what to do about Greg Hardy?
Technically his actions took place in the two-game era of the domestic violence policy, but the NFL filed a legal motion on Friday to unseal the evidence from Hardy's July trial in North Carolina. Is this employer overreach? Is this more of Roger Goodell's dictatorial style of justice?
Certainly that will be one side of the argument. But the NFL realizes it can't revert to its old ways here without making a mockery of everything the league has tried to do since.
After the interior elevator video was uncovered in the Ray Rice case, the one in which he rendered his then-fiancee, Janay, unconscious with a punch, the NFL was widely criticized for not successfully obtaining the contents of that video before handing a two-game suspension to Rice. People within the Ravens organization and the NFL were able to talk themselves out of the worst-case scenario -- the one that actually was the truth of it.
Once the video came out, the wishful thinking on the part of the league became glaringly obvious.
In the case of Hardy, the league is trying to find out an answer to the question -- what happened, exactly? Did the 6-foot-4, 275-pound defensive end for the Panthers throw the alleged victim on a bed of assault weapons? Did he strangle her? Did he threaten to kill her? Simply put -- what are the facts here?
The new domestic violence policy stipulates that the NFL doesn't have to rely on the legal outcome in order to find that a player has violated the standards. Those standards, Goodell said, are higher because it is a privilege to play in the NFL. You can either buy that or not, but it's the way the system is set up.
NFL players don't have the same expectations of privacy from the moment they step into the league. At the NFL combine this week, for instance, players will be measured, drug-tested, background-checked and asked questions that may venture into the irrelevant or inappropriate. Not just once, but by all the teams interested in drafting them. Parents, college coaches, Pop Warner teammates -- all of them can be interviewed. The process is considered fair game and a crucial part of getting into the league.
Hardy shouldn't expect that the scrutiny would be any less given the violent allegations in his case. And in the best case, if the NFL finds evidence that the allegations are untrue, then Hardy could come back into the league immediately and with his name cleared in a way current circumstances haven't allowed.
Technically, Hardy's domestic violence case started in May -- before the new policy was written -- when a series of 911 calls alerted officers to a possible assault at an apartment. This wasn't just he-said. she-said, as some of Hardy's supporters like to frame it. A third party made the initial call, asking the police to hurry because the woman could be seriously hurt.
In July, Judge Becky Thorne Tin found Hardy guilty after a bench trial that included testimony from the alleged victim, Nicole Holder, and others. Tin even concluded that the 911 call Hardy made was designed to mislead police into thinking Holder was the perpetrator. In North Carolina, Hardy had the right to appeal the decision to a jury, which he did. That decision nullified the guilty verdict.
On Monday, as the trial was set to start, Holder could not be located, and prosecutors said in court they had reliable information that a settlement was reached -- in other words, the prosecutor was hinting that Hardy paid Holder and she did not show up for the trial. Since the trial could not move forward without her participation, it was the end of Hardy's legal case and he was not convicted of the charges of assault and making threats.
The NFL has launched its own investigation into Hardy's case. As part of that investigation, it has asked the court to unseal files. Given the potential facts here, how could the league not ask? The second legal outcome was not decided on the facts, but on a technicality -- a technicality facilitated by an alleged perpetrator, the prosecutor contends.
Were the league to turn a blind eye, wash its hands and take Hardy off of the commissioner's exempt list, it would be an indirect refutation of all the firm words about domestic violence uttered since the Rice case.
What speaks louder, a $5 million donation to the National Domestic Violence Hotline or letting Hardy back on a roster with no more questions asked? Even if they cancel each other out, that's not enough given what the NFL has supposedly learned in the last six months.
The NFL should be fully aware of all the reasons a woman like Holder may not want to pursue a case any longer. Kim Gandy, the CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, said some of those reasons might be fear of the alleged perpetrator, fear of retaliation, emotional attachment or even fatigue with the legal system.
Imagine this choice, Gandy said: A woman can end the process and be more financially comfortable, or she can go through it all again, have a fan base come after her and have her own motives and character once again questioned. What would you choose? Being stereotyped as a "gold digger" may not seem so bad.
Of course, it's impossible to get inside Holder's head, but not every young woman is ready to lead the anti-domestic violence parade. Gandy notes that alleged victims get to make the best choice for themselves, and judging them isn't helpful even if it makes outsiders feel superior.
Knowing the complicated reasons some domestic violence cases are dropped should make the NFL more concerned with trying to get the facts.
The Hardy case also opens a can of worms that could affect owners. It used to be that a settlement meant no harm, no foul, but if that's no longer the case, then NFL owners' civil settlements could still draw a penalty. White-collar crime should apply as well. For consistency sake, if Jimmy Haslam settled his Flying J fraud case for $80-plus million in this new era, you'd hope the new policy would be fairly applied.
In all investigations, NFL employees are expected to cooperate as part of the terms of their employment. If Hardy doesn't cooperate here, the NFL can be even harsher in any potential discipline. The NFL Players Association is already challenging the new code of conduct policy, so there will be an appeal if Hardy is suspended.
Hardy is a test case for the NFL's new policy -- and the NFL needs to be thorough here where it failed before.