If I'm former Ravens running back Ray Rice, I'm upset that Greg Hardy is playing for the Dallas Cowboys this season – but not because Rice's domestic violence incident in 2014 seemingly ended his career, while Hardy, who was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend, is still playing.
No, if I'm Rice, I'm upset that Hardy's presence on the field runs contrary to the message Rice says he now wants to spread – namely, that domestic violence is a scourge that society needs to take more seriously.
Rice told ESPN Sunday he would like to help raise awareness of the issue, perhaps while working for the NFL, even if he never plays again. Rice certainly could use himself as an example of how you can ruin your good name and a successful career if you put your hands on a woman.
But ESPN only contacted him because his tawdry case is playing out again, only with Hardy and the Cowboys under scrutiny instead of Rice and the Ravens – a sad reprise that emphasizes how little progress the NFL has made on the issue in the 19 months since Rice struck his fiancé (now wife) in a New Jersey casino elevator.
The Ravens, remember, originally hoped to keep Rice on their roster even though there was a police report containing a graphic description of the damage he inflicted. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell handed out a shockingly light two-game suspension.
As I've written, I believe these early responses, tacit shrugs, were rooted in the legal system's handling of domestic violence – many cases get thrown out of court because the victim doesn't cooperate, a major problem, experts say. Until Rice's case, people in the NFL generally believed you could make a domestic violence charge go away.
But everyone adjusted their positions after video of Rice's punch surfaced, generating a public outcry. The Ravens, who have admitted missteps, cut Rice. Goodell, piling on, handed out a harsher suspension and instituted a tougher domestic violence policy.
But the sight of Hardy running around in a Cowboy uniform on Sundays undermines the idea that the league has become more sensitive.
Hardy was arrested in May 2014 after an incident with his girlfriend. She told police he "picked me up and threw me in the tile tub area of his bathroom. I have bruises from head to toe, including head, neck, back, shoulders, arms, legs elbow and feet. Hardy pulled me from the tub by my hair, screaming at me that he was going to kill me, break my arms and other threats that I completely believe. He drug me across the bathroom and out into the bedroom. Hardy choked me with both hands around my throat while I was lying on the floor. Hardy picked me up over his head and threw me onto a couch covered in assault rifles and/or shotguns. I landed on those weapons."
Hardy missed all but one game in 2014 and was convicted of assault in a bench trial, but the charge was dismissed when his accuser didn't make herself available on appeal. He signed with the Cowboys, and after Goodell suspended him for the first 10 games of the 2015 season, he was able, with help from the players' union, to get the suspension reduced to four games. He resumed playing in October.
If you've read the police report, your stomach probably has turned every time you've watched Hardy play. But for better or worse, unlike Rice, he was out there. Then, just as his case was being expunged from his record last week, graphic images of the damage he inflicted were released, generating the same outrage the Rice video stirred. Now, the public wants Hardy's head. Sound familiar?
Needless to say, it's unfortunate that, as in Rice's case, it took photographic evidence to get people riled up. The horrifying police report wasn't enough?
And there are several other questions that should have been asked long before the grim Hardy photos surfaced:
What were the tone-deaf Cowboys thinking when they signed him? That, like before, this would just go away?
Does it bother them that, unlike Rice, Hardy has shown no remorse other than one little tweet?
Is the union pleased it helped him get his suspension reduced? Did that victory help the greater good?
Shouldn't the league have some measure of oversight authority it can wield to avoid such embarrassing situations?
They do think it's embarrassing, right?
The NFL can draw up a new policy and drape all the pink it wants on players, but as long as Greg Hardy is playing and drawing cheers, the message it sends on domestic violence is wrong.