In the aftermath of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice’s release and indefinite suspension this week after TMZ obtained video of him knocking out his then-fiancée in an elevator, the Carolina Panthers have come under increased pressure over their handling of Greg Hardy’s domestic violence case.
Hardy, a Pro Bowl defensive end, was found guilty by a district judge in July of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend during an early-morning altercation at his uptown condo in May.
Hardy immediately appealed the decision, and he is awaiting a jury trial that has been scheduled for Nov. 17 in appeals court.
Hardy, who signed a one-year franchise tag worth $13.1 million two months before his arrest, has not been disciplined by the NFL or the team. He had a sack and a forced fumble in last weekend’s season opener at Tampa Bay, and he is expected to play in Sunday’s home game against Detroit.
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The Observer examines 10 questions surrounding the case against Hardy, what it means for him, and what the options are for the Panthers and the NFL.
Q. Why haven’t the Panthers suspended Hardy or punished him?
A. Panthers officials have said repeatedly they are following the lead of the league office, which says the matter remains under review. In the team’s most extensive comments about Hardy’s case, general manager Dave Gettleman called the charges “very concerning and very disappointing,” and said it appeared the league would let the legal process play out before taking any action.
Coach Ron Rivera reiterated Thursday the team will respect the legal process.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose handling of Rice’s situation is being investigated by a former FBI director, recently strengthened the league’s domestic violence policy.
Goodell, though, has a track record of leniency on domestic violence cases. Of the 47 incidents of NFL players arrested or charged for violent crimes toward women since he became commissioner in 2006, none resulted in a suspension of more than one game, according to the Houston Chronicle.
Ten players were released, mostly recently Rice. Hardy and San Francisco defensive end Ray McDonald have pending cases.
Q. Why didn’t the NFL do anything to Hardy?
A. The league apparently has decided to let the legal process play out before taking any action, but Goodell has not maintained that standard for every disciplinary case.
In 2010, he suspended Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger six games (later reduced to four) after Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student after a night of drinking. Roethlisberger was never charged in the case, but Goodell suspended him anyway.
While Hardy and McDonald have pending cases, Rice’s legal case was resolved after he was accepted into a diversion program. The NFL strengthened the policy in August in the wake of public backlash over Rice’s two-game suspension.
Under the new policy, first-time offenders will be suspended six games, with repeat offenders subject to indefinite suspension. Players can be punished without being formally charged or convicted. League officials said each case will be addressed individually on its merits.
Q. Could the Panthers have disciplined Hardy before the season?
A. Yes. In fact, they could have cut him, although they would have been forced to pay him $13.1 million to walk away after putting the franchise tag on him.
The Vikings have released two cornerbacks – Chris Cook and A.J. Jefferson – during recent years before their court cases were adjudicated.
In deciding to keep Hardy on the roster, the Panthers still could have taken action against him. The collective-bargaining agreement allows teams to fine players a maximum of one week’s salary or suspend them up to four games without pay for conduct detrimental to the club.
Hardy would have forfeited $3.1 million if the Panthers had decided to suspend him four games.
Q. Could the Panthers discipline Hardy now?
A. Yes. They could hand down a suspension at any time, although as mentioned above, that scenario seems unlikely.
Under the terms of the CBA, the Panthers also could deactivate Hardy for as many games as they want, although they’d have to pay him for those games.
Q. Wasn’t Hardy found guilty?
A. Yes, a Mecklenburg County district judge found him guilty in July of assaulting and threatening to kill Nicole Holder, who told authorities Hardy was upset over her brief relationship with rapper Nelly after she and Hardy broke up.
Under North Carolina law, defendants convicted of a misdemeanor by a judge can appeal for a jury trial. It’s referred to as a trial de novo, which is Latin for “anew.”
In such cases, the appeals court holds a trial as if no prior trial was held.
Q. How likely is it the jury trial will start Nov. 17?
A. Hardy’s legal team certainly doesn’t think it will happen then. Chris Fialko, Hardy’s attorney, said in August he believes “the state will try other, much older cases at the November date, and we will be assigned a jury trial date in 2015 once that master court calendar is published.”
Fialko continued: “I do not think this district attorney will leapfrog Mr. Hardy’s case over the many other older ones where defendants and accusers have been patiently waiting for trial.”
Coincidentally, Hardy’s court date is scheduled for the first day of the Panthers’ bye week, coming one day after a home game against division rival Atlanta.
If the jury trial takes place in 2015, it’s probable Hardy would be a free agent after his one-year, $13.1 million deal.
Q. What has Hardy said?
A. Hardy has maintained his innocence. In court, he testified that Holder was behaving erratically and hit him in the face with her heeled shoe in the early morning of May 13. Hardy said he had his friend and business manager, Sammy Curtis, hold Holder back while he called 911 and asked for help.
In his first public statements since the trial, Hardy declined to comment on multiple questions asked by reporters recently at training camp in Spartanburg. He said he hated he had been a distraction to his team but said no more.
Two weeks ago, Hardy said he had yet to meet with the league or Goodell. On Monday, Hardy declined to comment when asked if he had any communication with the league. He also said he had not seen the video of Rice striking his then-fiancée and that he probably wouldn’t.
“Probably not,” Hardy told the Observer. “I got to work, man. I got one sack (in Sunday’s 20-14 win against Tampa Bay). That’s not good. I’m going to go watch some film, get in the cold tub because I am getting old. Fifth year in the league. I probably won’t have time to run across it.”
Q. What has Holder said?
A. At the trial, Holder described Hardy as moody, and testified that on that evening he had been set off by two things. A “party foul” had been called on Hardy after he knocked over a glass and, later in the evening, a song by Nelly was played while the group was out. Holder had a short-lived relationship with the rapper.
Holder, who admitted to taking cocaine that night, was the subject of Hardy’s rage when he “snapped” while they were in bed. She said he threw her into the bathtub and her back hit the tiles. She also said he snatched a necklace off her neck and threw it in the toilet, and when she went to retrieve it he slammed the seat on her arm.
She said the assault spread to the living room, where he picked her up and slammed her on a futon covered with rifles.
“He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me,” Holder said. “I was so scared I wanted to die. When he loosened his grip slightly, I said, ‘Just do it. Kill me.’ ”
In an email, Holder’s attorney, Daniel Zamora, declined to comment on the status of the criminal case or about the lack of discipline from the league and the Panthers.
Q. What did judge Becky Thorne Tin say?
A. In her decision, Tin took into account the different versions of what occurred that night. She said the evidence persuaded her beyond a reasonable doubt that Hardy beat Holder, threw her around his apartment, then used a fabricated 911 call to hide what he had done.
The cut on Hardy’s face that he claimed came from Holder’s heeled shoe had been there months earlier, as evidenced by a selfie he had sent to Holder.
Of the witness who testified, Christina Lawrence was the most credible because she seemingly had no side to take, Tin said. Lawrence, an uptown bartender, testified that she was in an adjacent room and heard the assault but did not see it. Lawrence had stated Holder wasn’t particularly friendly to her earlier in the night and the two had no previous history.
Q. Will the national attention Hardy’s case is receiving cause the Panthers to take action?
A. The Panthers seem to be standing pat, though the scrutiny on Hardy’s case is greater now than it was after his arrest or conviction. Asked by ESPN on Thursday if the team should let Hardy play, former Panthers general manager and ESPN analyst Bill Polian said it was a difficult question.
Wednesday night, team owner Jerry Richardson asked for patience as the team respects the process. cCoach Ron Rivera echoed the owner’s statement during a Thursday news conference. In the days since the leaked Rice video, however, there’s more national interest in the Panthers because of Hardy than the team’s 1-0 record.