Steelers cornerback William Gay graced our televisions with frequency Sunday, not to collect interceptions, but to relay an important, heart-wrenching message: His mother was a victim of domestic violence after she attempted and failed to escape her perpetrator. Gay was just eight when his mother died. Now, he looked proud and determined to use his platform—in this case, a slew of No More public service announcements interwoven throughout Week 7’s telecasts–to encourage viewers to speak up and take action if they see even a hint of behavior that could swell into violence. Don’t be an innocent bystander, Gay preached.
Then the Cowboys–Giants game returned, and there was defensive end Greg Hardy wearing a Cowboys uniform he should never have been given, displaying a hint of the same type of violent rage that forced him to sit out from the league last year.
As a refresher, Hardy was convicted last July of assaulting and threatening to kill his former girlfriend. Hardy dragged her by the hair from room to room, threw her on a futon covered in rifles and clasped his hands around her neck. Those are the details that Hardy’s first wave of enablers, those blind to his conviction, tend to forget or at least compartmentalize. They point to Hardy’s appeal for a jury trial, automatically granted in North Carolina, and claim that because Hardy’s ex-girlfriend failed to show that makes Hardy innocent. It does not.
Fast-forward to this season, in which Hardy, gifted an $11.3 million contact by Jerry Jones who clearly believes in talent over trouble, has perfected his bad boy role to a T. And no one with any authority seems to give a damn.
Two weeks ago when Hardy made his Cowboys debut against the Patriots, he let it be known that he was ready to come out “guns blazin’,” a harmless expression unless you were convicted of tossing your girlfriend onto a bed of guns. In that same press session, Hardy disrespectfully invoked Tom Brady’s wife, Gisele Bundchen. “Have you seen her? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game,” he said.
Clearly these comments crossed the line of appropriate pregame banter. For this alone, Hardy should have been fined or suspended by the Cowboys, particularly if he’s on second-chance watch, as the team intimated upon his signing.
But, in fact, the exact opposite happened. Instead of reprimanding the clearly tone-deaf comments of Hardy, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones defended Hardy to me at the NFL owners meeting in Manhattan. Jones, in front of Charlotte Jones Anderson and Stephen Jones, both high-ranking Cowboys officials and his children, vehemently agreed with Hardy’s notion that it was appropriate to talk about Gisele’s appearance: “When I saw him marry her [Gisele], Tom went up in my eyes 100%,” Jones added. “She’s very very attractive and it shows what an outstanding individual Tom is.”
There were no TV cameras present during our conversation, but it’s safe to say my expression that day mirrored that of The MMQB’s Jenny Vrentas yesterday when she was part of a group listening to Jones call Hardy “a real leader” after Hardy jawed with Dez Bryant and tried to smack a clipboard out of special teams coach Rich Bisaccia’s hands following a Giants kick return touchdown.
In this case, Jones was not Hardy’s sole defender. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett and several players touted Hardy’s fire, his passion.
I honestly don’t get it. It’s one thing to get into a shouting match with the team’s best player; it’s another to shove a coach. It’s one thing to go a little bonkers when you have a clean rap sheet; it’s another to do so when you’ve been convicted of assaulting a woman.
Somebody, somewhere needs to take action before this gets even more ugly. Like most disasters, accountability starts at the top. To his credit, Roger Goodell originally suspended Hardy for 10 games before Hardy predictably won his appeal and had it reduced to four games. But in the weeks since Hardy has been an active member of the Cowboys, Goodell has missed opportunities to showcase the integrity of the league. He failed to call out Jones for the startling, disgusting Gisele comments that mimicked Hardy’s. This type of missed interjections that exhibit leadership and build credibility have plagued Goodell throughout his commissionership. Now comes another opportunity for Goodell, in this case letting the NFL world know that players pushing coaches or anyone, for that matter is unacceptable. But since that type of statement involves admonishing an owner and not policing the air levels of footballs, it’s doubtful to happen.
In theory, a Hardy teammate or two would speak up, except the league has created a military-like culture where even the most altruistic expression of individualism comes with a fine.
Former NFL linebacker Scott Fujita, who played a season in Dallas, encapsulated this issue to me in response to Hardy’s original Gislele/guns blazin’ comments.
“One of the hard things is they'll feel obligated to say the ‘right’ thing, knowing it's the wrong thing,” Fujita said.
We’ve seen Fujita’s analysis applied to so many situations where an unsavory player is seemingly embraced in the name of supporting a teammate. But Hardy is different. He’s dangerous. And if we’re being honest, he’s pretty scary.
It makes you particularly wonder how a player like Cowboys tight end Jason Witten, who has spoken candidly about growing up with an abusive father, feels about having Hardy as a teammate. Or how any Cowboys player who is not inherently misogynist feels about sharing a locker room with Hardy.
All of this repression and compartmentalization is particularly harmful when the Cowboys’ owner happens to be the ultimate enabler. As Jones has now embraced a convicted abuser who got off on a technicality, mirrored Hardy’s views that women exist to be gawked at, and applauded his in-game rage, it’s frightening to consider what act would get Jones to see the light. Unless someone with authority speaks up, we sadly may have to find out.