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With public scrutiny intensifying, Panthers finally sit Greg Hardy

CHARLOTTE, NC -- Thirty years ago, Margaret Gobble woke up with a gun next to her pillow. That’s when she realized she had enough. Gobble filed a police report, cooperated with investigators and testified in Rowan County (NC) District Court against her abusive husband. A judge found him guilty. He appealed.

“Thirty years ago, I was just like the woman who Greg Hardy abused,” Gobble, now 64, said. “And let me tell you this: No matter what happens in his [Hardy’s] jury trial, even if he gets off, the abuse still happened. That’s something that can never be denied.”

A conflicted Gobble arrived at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.  Passionate about her Panthers, she has never missed a home game. But she also believes in the American justice system, and respects North Carolina’s unique appeals procedure. Though found guilty on two charges of domestic violence in a July bench trial, Hardy is allowed to have peers hear his case. “And that’s fine,” Gobble said. “Because whether you’re an average Joe or a Carolina Panther, we all deserve the same legal rights.”

That said, how could a 6-foot-4, 280-pound defensive end, who, according to a district judge’s verdict, terrorized an ex-girlfriend, suit up in a NFL uniform? Gobble has long understood what it took the Panthers too long to figure out: Everyone has the right to due process, but playing football is a unique privilege.

A lifelong Panthers fan, Margaret Gobble (center) felt mixed emotions about Greg Hardy's deactivation.

A lifelong Panthers fan, Margaret Gobble (center) felt mixed emotions about Greg Hardy's deactivation.

Hardy was deactivated on Sunday, a surprising decision for an organization that relentlessly deferred to the NFL and “letting the legal system play out” in addressing the 26-year-old franchise player. There is no change in Hardy’s case. His jury trial is still tentatively scheduled for Nov. 17. But there is  mounting public pressure in the wake of Ray Rice’s graphic videotape and the Vikings’ deactivation of Adrian Peterson after he was charged with reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Panthers defeated the Lions 24-7, and even with the Kraken constrained, the Panthers D fared just fine, stifling Calvin Johnson and Matt Stafford while recording three takeaways.

Coach Ron Rivera appeared agitated when the first postgame question he received was about Hardy. “We played a heck of a football game today,” he said when asked when he made the decision to deactivate Hardy.

On his reasoning, Rivera offered little more than this: “I know you all were wondering ...  It was my decision and it was in the best interest of the Carolina Panthers.” He then said, “This is a very serious situation the league is dealing with right now. Teams are dealing with it and we’re doing the best we can. Teams are not infallible. We make mistakes.”

And with that, Hardy’s future for Week 3, and beyond, remained murky.

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Before word of his deactivation, Hardy’s name dominated tailgate discussion on a sticky, overcast morning at Bank of America Stadium. The phrase “domestic violence” sprouted just as often as “Cam’s ankle.” Yet there were no protests, no visible unrest and barely talk of sitting the embattled star.

Even Panthers players didn’t know Hardy would sit until pregame warmups. To a tee, they cited the next man up mentality.

“We knew we had to hold it down for him,” defensive tackle Kawann Short said. “We didn’t really think about it, we just played.”

“He’s arguably one of our best players,” veteran wide receiver Jason Avant said. “It’s a very serious situation that he’s facing. We just want to let him know that he’s in our prayers. We just hope that he can rebound and learn from this experience and become a better person.”

While that’s fair, it’s important to remember these aren’t just allegations. There has been disposition. And Becky Thorne Tin, who presided over the trial, isn’t some night court judge. Harvard-educated, she’s one of the most well-respected judges in Mecklenburg County. In fact, Hardy’s own lawyer, Chris Fialko, has endorsed Judge Tin, contributing to her campaigns.

The Panthers had plenty of ground to suspend Hardy two months ago. In announcing a suspension to repeat offender Ben Roethlisberger after charges of sexual assault in 2010, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell acknowledged in a letter that there are certain morale expectations of NFL players:

“My decision today is not based on a finding that you violated Georgia law, or on a conclusion that differs from that of the local prosecutor. That said, you are held to a higher standard as an NFL player, and there is nothing about your conduct in Milledgeville that can remotely be described as admirable, responsible, or consistent with either the values of the league or the expectations of our fans.”

Hardy can have a jury trial. The law allows him that. But if the NFL truly has “higher standards,” fans, like Margaret Gobble, deserve better than letting the Kraken play, unleashed.