Greg Hardy situation trumps others

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has a lengthy to-do list. It is peppered with high-profile names. Jim Irsay. Aldon Smith. Ray Rice. Josh Gordon.

Goodell is going to get around to disciplining the aforementioned men, a league source said. It is not a matter of if, but when. But Goodell now must add Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy to the top of his list. He must punish Hardy, whom a North Carolina judge earlier this week found guilty of two misdemeanors stemming from a May 13 confrontation with a former girlfriend.

Never mind that Hardy immediately appealed the judge's verdict that he assaulted and threatened to kill his former girlfriend. Under North Carolina law, Hardy was granted a jury trial that likely won't take place until after the season. The details that emerged during the lengthy proceeding in Charlotte on Tuesday were ugly.

According to the judge's ruling, Hardy beat Nicole Holder in his Charlotte apartment and then called 911 in an attempt to cover up what he had done. Holder testified that Hardy threw her in a bathtub, dragged her around his apartment by her hair, ripped off a necklace she was wearing and tossed her onto a futon that was covered with rifles, the Charlotte Observer reported. Hardy said Holder threw herself in the bathtub and threatened to kill herself, and he denied hurting her.

If the case indeed goes to trial, a 12-person jury will have to unanimously decide guilt or innocence. Goodell does not have to wait for the trial to occur, however. Nor should he. He has the power under the NFL's personal conduct policy to discipline Hardy even though this was the player's first known offense.

The NFL's personal conduct policy states: "Persons who fail to live up to (the NFL's) standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime." Among the listed "circumstances" in which Goodell can impose discipline is "domestic violence and other forms of partner abuse."

The policy also states: "Unless the available facts clearly indicate egregious circumstances, significant bodily harm or risk to third parties, or an immediate and substantial risk to the integrity and reputation of the NFL, a first offense generally will not result in discipline until there has been a disposition of the proceeding (or until the investigation is complete in the case of noncriminal misconduct)."

Given what a judge ruled transpired, the Hardy case qualifies as an egregious circumstance. Also, the reputation and integrity of both the league and the Panthers have been compromised. They are committed to paying the 25-year-old Hardy, whom they franchised earlier in the offseason, $13.1 million guaranteed this season. After recording 18 sacks in his first three seasons, Hardy finished 2013 with 15 sacks, behind only Indianapolis' Robert Mathis and St. Louis' Robert Quinn.

Having one of your star players found guilty of putting his hands on a woman is not a good look. Domestic violence is a huge problem in this country. One in four women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime and 85 percent of domestic violence victims are women, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Women who are 20-24 years old are at the greatest risk of nonfatal intimate partner violence.

Although there isn't evidence that domestic violence is epidemic in the NFL, the Hardy case comes on the heels of another high-profile case by a star player. In February, Rice, the Baltimore Ravens running back, and his then-fiancée (now wife) were arrested and charged with assault for allegedly striking each other in an Atlantic City casino. In May, Rice entered a diversion program and subsequently met with Goodell, who has not yet levied punishment.

With Hardy, as with Rice, Goodell needs to make a statement that the league has a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to how men in his league treat women.

That's why, even though Hardy has appealed the judge's ruling, Goodell needs to step in and suspend Hardy for the first four games of this season. Take him off the field. Take money out of his pocket, because that is the fastest way to alter behavior and get players' attention.

After ruling with a heavy hand early in his tenure as commissioner, Goodell has pulled back recently when it comes to disciplining players for violations of the personal conduct policy. The last known suspension of an active player under the personal conduct policy was in August 2012, when he suspended then-Tennessee wide receiver Kenny Britt for one game because of repeated brushes with the law.

I'm all for adjudication before suspension, which seemingly has been Goodell's modus operandi of late. But this is a serious matter, and Goodell should not leave punishment up to the Panthers.

Goodell needs to suspend Hardy now, and then move on to the rest of his to-do list, beginning with Rice.