Peter St. Onge

One month late, a nod to Jerry Richardson

Greg Hardy leaves court in February after his domestic abuse case was dismissed.
Greg Hardy leaves court in February after his domestic abuse case was dismissed. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

This week, more than 700 people gathered in Charlotte to talk about something people don’t much like to talk about.

At the inaugural Women For Courage luncheon, we learned that one in four women will suffer some kind of domestic abuse. We heard a few of those painful stories, those uncomfortable stories. We learned that one of the best ways to fight abuse is to be more uncomfortable with it happening than you are thinking about it.

That means speaking up and standing up when you see it or suspect it.

It also means recognizing when someone has decided not to be quiet.

So let’s do that, one month late.

Last month, Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson revealed to ESPN that it was his decision not to try to re-sign defensive end Greg Hardy.

That’s not really much of a surprise, but maybe this was: Some Panthers’ players went to Richardson to make a case for bringing the star defensive end back.

It’s a good bet those players said some of the same things Panthers fans have been saying about Hardy. That he’d already been punished when the Panthers suspended him last season for a 2014 domestic violence incident. That although a Mecklenburg judge convicted him of assaulting his ex-girlfriend, a subsequent jury trial was dismissed when Hardy reached a financial settlement with her.

It’s a reasonable argument. It gets even stronger for some when you factor in how much Hardy could improve fall Sundays in Charlotte.

But Richardson declined. He stood up, and with his decision, he spoke out.

Richardson had already spoken out once, you remember. Back in September, after being criticized on these pages and elsewhere for taking no action with Hardy, he accepted the Echo Award Against Indifference at an uptown gala.

He was emotional that night. “When it comes to domestic violence,” he said haltingly, “my stance is not one of indifference.”

When he suspended Hardy a few days later, some wondered if recent suspensions to Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson had pretty much forced his hand.

The same people might also say that Richardson probably decided not to re-sign Hardy last month for business reasons. The NFL still has its own suspension to hand out, and it could be as much as a six-game slap. That also would come with another helping of bad PR on the side.

That didn’t stop Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who signed Hardy on March 18. Jones is calculating that the cheers inside his stadium will drown out the protests outside. Plus, even a six-game NFL suspension would leave Hardy sacking quarterbacks for the playoff drive.

Why didn’t Richardson do the same math? A clue from Panthers defensive tackle Dwan Edwards, who told the Observer last month: “I understand Mr. Richardson and his feelings on that. I have a wife and two daughters as well...”

So the owner stood up. He spoke out, quietly but firmly.

It probably wasn’t an easy decision. Or maybe it was very easy, the way things are when doing the wrong thing is the most uncomfortable choice of all.

Peter: pstonge@charlotteobserver.com

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