While Greg Hardy has been busy retweeting anyone who posts encouraging words or pleas for Carolina to keep him, the Panthers’ embattled defensive end received some good news Thursday from a federal judge in Minnesota.
Judge David Doty sided with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and the players union, vacating the arbitration award that upheld the suspension handed down by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in November after Peterson pleaded no contest to reckless assault on his son.
Doty’s decision, which the NFL has said it will appeal, wasn’t just a victory for Peterson, but a win for Hardy, as well.
Hardy will seek immediate reinstatement based on Doty’s ruling, a league source with knowledge of the situation told the Observer on Thursday.
Hardy has been on the commissioner’s exempt list since September, stemming from a domestic violence arrest last spring. Hardy’s legal team already had started working on the process for reinstatement and views Doty’s decision as a huge coup.
NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, though, said Doty’s ruling was “irrelevant” to Hardy’s situation.
“He hasn’t been disciplined,” McCarthy said of Hardy. “There is nothing for him to seek reinstatement from at this point.”
Hardy made $13.1 million under his franchise-tag tender last season despite playing only one game. After he was deactivated for a Week 2 win vs. Detroit, Hardy agreed to join Peterson the exempt list – essentially a paid leave of absence – until his case was adjudicated.
Doty does not have the authority to reinstate Peterson, but his 16-page ruling clears the way for Peterson’s return.
“This is a victory for the rule of law, due process and fairness,” NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith said in a statement. “Our collective bargaining agreement has rules for implementation of the personal conduct policy and when those rules are violated, our union always stands up to protect our players’ rights. This is yet another example why neutral arbitration is good for our players, good for the owners and good for our game.”
Doty agreed with Peterson’s contention that Goodell overstepped his authority by applying the league’s new personal conduct policy for an incident that predated the policy. NFL owners hastily approved the new conduct policy in December after Goodell botched the Ray Rice investigation.
Peterson was indicted in September for disciplining his 4-year-old son with a switch last May. He was suspended indefinitely without pay in November after his no-contest plea – a suspension that spanned the Vikings’ final six games.
The new policy calls for a six-game suspension for first-time violations involving assault, sexual assault and domestic violence. Under the former policy, first-time offenders typically received two-game suspensions.
That was the punishment initially given to Rice, setting off a public firestorm after the TMZ video of Rice knocking out his fiancee surfaced.
Like Peterson, the incident that landed Hardy on the commissioner’s exempt list also occurred last May, when Nicole Holder, Hardy’s ex-girlfriend, accused him of throwing her around his uptown condo following a night of partying.
In July, a District judge found Hardy guilty of misdemeanor charges of assaulting Holder and threatening to kill her. But the charges were dismissed on Feb. 9 when prosecutors couldn’t find Holder to testify in the jury trial in Superior Court.
Prosecutors said Holder received a settlement from Hardy for an undisclosed amount.
The NFL has continued its investigation to determine what Hardy did or didn’t do during the early-morning hours of May 13.
The league filed a motion earlier this month to have the evidence from Hardy’s first trial unsealed. But the judge already had returned the exhibits to the defense attorneys and prosecutors, and the NFL withdrew the motion Monday, according to court documents.
Hardy’s case file was open for anyone to view for the two months between the time of his May arrest and July trial, but the NFL apparently missed that window.
League officials and former New York City sex crime prosecutor Lisa Friel will conduct the investigation without talking to Hardy’s accuser (presumably) or reviewing the trial exhibits.
Whatever the league decides, the Peterson ruling seemingly sets the precedent that Hardy should be punished under the old policy – and he presumably would be looking at a two-game suspension instead of six.
As Andrew Brandt, a sports law expert for ESPN and Sports Illustrated, said via text message: “It’s hard to apply new policy to old conduct.”
Even if Hardy’s reinstatement efforts are unsuccessful, Thursday’s ruling should help his market value.
The Panthers are still expected to cut ties with Hardy, who is eligible for free agency next month. But other teams that need a Pro Bowl pass rusher might be willing to throw more money at him now that they know he’s unlikely to be sitting more than a couple of games.
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