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Domestic violence charge will leave Panthers’ Greg Hardy a marked man

Tom Sorensen
Tom Sorensen has been a columnist at The Observer for more than 20 years and has been at the paper for more than 25, writing about nearly every sport in the Carolinas.

The owner, general manager and head coach of a football team don’t want to hear that one of their players was involved in a bar brawl. They don’t want to hear that one of their players was arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol.

But sometimes athletes fight and sometimes athletes drive after they drink.

As odious as those charges can be, there’s another that will make every owner, general manager and head coach cringe. That charge is domestic violence.

Greg Hardy, a Carolina Panthers defensive end, was charged Tuesday with two misdemeanors, domestic violence against a female and communicating threats.

The image is unsettling. Hardy is 6-4 and weights 290 pounds. He’s a superior athlete in superior condition. How many guys weigh close to 290 pounds and sport abdominal muscles?

The alleged victim, who said she and Hardy have been in a relationship eight months, sustained minor injuries. She declined to be treated.

I’ll be honest. Stories such as these are awkward to write.

There’s a danger of making too much of the charges.

Hardy is one of the best players on the region’s most popular team, and everybody knows his name. His fans will contend that if he were not a public figure the charges would merit little attention. So leave the guy alone and let him enjoy what little time he has before training camp begins.

There’s also a danger of making too little of the charges.

Hardy’s detractors will contend that he’ll get off easy because of his money, fame and connections. The criminal justice system watches the NFL, too. And if Hardy did go to trial, it wouldn’t be with a public defender.

The Panthers, I assure you, are livid.

They elected not to sign Hardy to a long-term contract after the 2013 season. In February, they applied the franchise tag. They’ll rent him for a year for $13.1 million. The investment limited what they could offer other players.

But Hardy is only 24, he has improved as a player in each of his four seasons and teammates and coaches praised his hard work, especially late last season. He’s very good and he has the potential to be elite. To stand next to him is to think: How can anybody block this guy?

Yet Hardy’s resume is not clean and neat. He told Sports Illustrated he was briefly kicked off the football team at Mississippi. He’s no stranger to the DMV. He’s missed team meetings, or showed up late. While the transgressions are minor, it’s as if he collects them.

Do the Panthers pay him the big money it will take to retain him? They’ll also have to offer quarterback Cam Newton maximum money.

I like Hardy. He’s funny, interesting and willing to be unconventional. He’ll hang out with Memphis friends from high school. You like people who remember those they came up with, don’t you?

Hardy used to eat in a restaurant whose owner I know. He said Hardy brought friends but never a sense of entitlement. He loves having him there.

Whatever the courts decide, Hardy is marked.

A team represents a town and a player represents a team. And now, some fans will look at Hardy with as much contempt as awe. Opposing offensive linemen will have a new subject to discuss with him. And Panthers management will draw a circle around May 13, the day their offseason ended.

Sorensen: 704-358-5129; tsorensen@charlotteobserver.com; Twitter: @tomsorensen
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