Hardy’s New Bench Trial

Greg Hardy was convicted and then cleared of domestic-abuse charges by the North Carolina judicial system. A look at why the NFL’s new disciplinary process still suspended him for 10 games ... plus, answering your questions about the 2015 schedule, Jim Harbaugh and Aaron Hernandez
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The new NFL was on display Wednesday afternoon when it suspended Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy for the first 10 games of 2015 season, without pay, for allegedly assaulting and threatening to kill his former girlfriend in May 2014. Though a judge found him guilty in a bench trial last July, Hardy was ultimately cleared of wrongdoing by the North Carolina judicial system in February, when prosecutors dropped charges instead of proceeding to a jury trial.

But the new NFL, in which a former sex-crimes prosecutor handles domestic-violence investigations and a former ATF czar oversees disciplinary rulings, didn’t rely on a conviction in order to proceed with severe punishment.

The NFL Players Association will likely appeal the suspension, and argue that Hardy’s being unable to play in 15 games last year while on the commissioner’s exempt list (with pay) should count as a suspension and time served. My guess is that the NFLPA will win a reduction in the 10-game suspension, the same way it won lesser sanctions for Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson in their respective domestic-abuse cases. Such an appeal and a possible adjustment to the suspension won’t surprise the NFL—nor will it alter the league’s new way of handing down discipline in these types of cases.

It was clear that the NFL was going to suspend Hardy for at least six games, and probably more, after Roger Goodell put more teeth into his domestic-violence policy last August. At that time, part of his letter to team owners about his new policy said:

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“Effective immediately, violations of the Personal Conduct Policy regarding assault, battery, domestic violence or sexual assault that involve physical force will be subject to a suspension without pay of six games for a first offense, with consideration given to mitigating factors, as well as a longer suspension when circumstances warrant. Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be a prior incident before joining the NFL, or violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child.”

A reasonable argument can be made that someone who was suspended with pay last year—and that’s essentially what the commissioner’s exempt list did to Hardy—should not be double-jeopardized and have to serve another suspension (without pay) in 2015. But this is something the NFL had to do, or it would have been accused of not backing up its new policies with legitimate action. If this 10-game suspension stands, then Hardy will be held out of 25 games, one-and-a-half seasons of play. That would the longest contiguous suspension of any active player in league history. We’ll see if, on appeal, Hardy’s punishment is deemed egregious.

Hardy never faced a jury trial in North Carolina because prosecutors couldn’t locate the alleged victim, Nicole Holder. (According to media reports, she had reached an agreement with Hardy in a civil suit.) Lisa Friel, the former sex-crimes prosecutor who is now the NFL’s senior vice president and special counsel for investigations, attempted to interview Holder but wasn’t able to. Most of the NFL’s evidence was gleaned from the disturbing testimony, documents and photos that were presented at the bench trial nine months ago. In that trial, Holder testified that Hardy threw her onto a bed filled with guns in his Charlotte home, that he put his hands on her throat and left visible marks, and that he threatened to kill her.

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According to the NFL’s press release on Wednesday, the league described another aggravating element that factored into Hardy’s suspension: “The NFL’s investigation also concluded that Hardy failed to provide complete and accurate information to NFL investigators and members of the NFL staff.”

A month after the NFL hired B. Todd Jones away from the ATF to oversee player discipline, the league suspended Hardy for 10 games just days after he filed paperwork in North Carolina to have the domestic-abuse charges officially expunged from his record. In March, Hardy signed an incentive-laden, one-year deal with the Cowboys that could have been worth as much as $13.1 million if he were to play the whole season.

In the old NFL, in the absence of a legal conviction, he might have played virtually the entire 2015 season. But with Friel having conducted her own investigation, and concluding that weapons were present in the alleged assault, that Hardy put hands around the neck of the victim, and that he wasn’t entirely forthcoming in his dealings with the league, he won’t be eligible to return until the Cowboys play his old team, the Panthers, on Thanksgiving Day.

My view: Whether the NFL wins or loses this on appeal, a message has been sent. The new policy puts teeth into rulings on domestic violence cases that didn’t exist before.

Now, on to your emails ...

The four NFL employees who help make the schedule, from left to right: Michael North, Jonathan Payne, Howard Katz and Onnie Bose. (Sasha Preziosa/Courtesy of the NFL)

The four NFL employees who help make the schedule, from left to right: Michael North, Jonathan Payne, Howard Katz and Onnie Bose. (Sasha Preziosa/Courtesy of the NFL)

Prime-time games are great, but why do they start at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time? They usually don't end until midnight. It’s pretty hard for working people on the East Coast, where most of us live, to watch the games till the end. This year almost a third of the Patriots’ games are primetime. This does not seem to be the right way to reward Patriots Nation for winning the Super Bowl by having their best games of the season end at midnight. Please start prime-time games earlier!!!

— Pat

That point has been made for the last 45 years, and as someone who has lived in the Eastern Time Zone for his entire life, I couldn’t agree with you more. But because the NFL wants the 27% of the country in Mountain and Pacific Time to be able to see the games after work, I don't expect this to change.

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How much more (or less) difficult was the schedule creation process prior to the fixed rotation of out-of-division games? I'd guess the flexibility to create any matchup was a plus, but too much flexibility maybe a negative? 

— Mike

That’s a very good question. In the Val Pinchbeck room where Howard Katz and his staff spend four months working on the schedule, there is an old-fashioned board on the wall that Pinchbeck—the former schedule maker—used in the ’70s and ’80s. He used to sit there and gaze at the scheduling puzzle without the benefit of 136 computers. His head was the computer. So the schedule was not nearly as complex for the reason you mentioned and many others. But it was also not an obsessed-about thing in America, either. It used to be the release of the schedule was a blip on the public’s radar screen. Now, NFL Network has 18 people analyzing it for three hours upon its release. There’s no question that the schedule, like so many other things in the NFL, has become overly dissected.

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FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a Steelers fan. 

Leading up to the schedule release, a lot of teams from both coasts sent the league requests to "bundle" trips to the opposite coast. Most of the responses from the league were along the lines of “they would consider those requests, however, it is hard to accommodate requests like that.” 

It seems to me that the NFL did the Ravens a huge favor by “bundling” their four West Coast games into two trips. On top of that they got them out of the way before their Week 9 bye. A little quid pro quo maybe?

— Rick

I doubt there are many people in the Baltimore Ravens’ offices thanking their lucky stars that they have two two-game Western road trips in the first seven weeks of the season. I sincerely doubt that any team with only two games on the opposite coast would have requested that those two games be played in consecutive weeks. But if a team did, I doubt the league would try very hard to put those games back-to-back. I look at this from a different perspective than you. I think the Ravens playing five of their first seven on the road, including four in the Mountain or Pacific Time zones, is a tremendous burden. But I understand all schedules are looked at with a jaundiced eye. Every fan is going to find something to hate about his team’s schedule or a rival’s schedule. Just my opinion, but I think you need to look at this a little more globally and a little less locally.

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How can Alex Boone say, “Dude, we got over the mountain,” when the 49ers did not win a Super Bowl?! Isn’t that the “mountain” or goal??? He sounds like a player who should have been gone, rather than the coach who was still pushing his players/team to the ultimate goal! 

— Reginald C.

I agree with you more than I disagree. I have always thought that a coach who is very hard to get along with, but who wins, is the kind of coach you have to figure out a way to exist with. I understand clearly that Jim Harbaugh was very difficult to work with. But as I pointed out several times last winter, Bill Walsh was difficult for Eddie DeBartolo and Carmen Policy to work with, too. Having said all that, it still is difficult when so many people in the organization are having a problem with the head coach. And those people included players. Boone is certainly not the only one who had a difficult time with his coach. At least now we’re getting to see a fuller picture of Harbaugh’s relationship with players in the organization.

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Dear Peter, 

I appreciate your points on the Hernandez trial, but you missed one thing. Not only should the Patriots investigative staff take blame, but Urban Meyer should also be faulted for failing Hernandez at Florida. College coaches should also serve as mentors, and it seemed that while he helped Hernandez the football player, Meyer really came up short in helping Hernandez the person. 

— Benny R., Los Angeles

I don’t know that, and I’m not sure you do either. I still think the bottom line in all of this is that Aaron Hernandez should have been playing very far away from the bad influences in Connecticut. Foxboro simply wasn’t far enough away.

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Hey Peter,

Talk Back

Have a question or comment for Peter King? Email him at talkback@themmqb.com and it might be included in next week’s mailbag.

I don’t understand your fascination with Chip Kelly. Is he a good coach? I’d say so. Is he a great coach? The jury is still way out on this. Is he deserving of your adulation? I can’t understand why he would be. You had a separate section just for him during the season, and every week you’re telling us about his latest, greatest new move. Would it be possible for him to win just one playoff game before you anoint him the new Messiah? Seriously, he’s doing so many things for the Eagles that appear to be simply for the reason of doing something, anything, that it’s hard to find a method to his madness.

Time will tell, but this Giants fan is happy to see him in Philly. It won’t be long before the Eagles return to mediocrity and Chip is back in college where his style of play belongs.

— Warren Meyer, Oceanside, N.Y.

If time will tell, why do you seem to have already made your decision? I agree that time will tell. We don’t know how good of a coach he is going to be in the NFL, and many good college coaches have failed at the pro level, including Steve Spurrier and Nick Saban. I don’t idolize Chip Kelly, although I do write a lot about him. He’s a compelling figure. What we try to do is find interesting people and good stories, and we write about people who do edgy things without fear. That’s Kelly. I don’t know if he’ll succeed, but I’m fascinated by his moves. I think the larger issue here is that if I see somebody in the NFL who is unafraid to take chances, despite an avalanche of criticism for it, that’s the kind of person that fascinates me. You mentioned me writing a special category in my column last year for Kelly. It’s because he made a lot of sense talking about things that most people around the NFL weren’t talking about. But I get it. If I write a lot about somebody there are going to be people who view that I love the guy or something like that. In today’s 24/7 NFL media culture, that’s the price of doing business.

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