The NFL suspended former Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy for 10 games, stemming from a domestic violence incident involving his ex-girlfriend last spring in Charlotte.
Hardy, who signed a one-year contract with the Dallas Cowboys last month, will appeal the decision through the NFL Players Association, a union spokesperson said Wednesday after the NFL announced the punishment.
If the suspension stands, Hardy will be eligible to return for a Thanksgiving Day game against the Panthers in Dallas.
The league’s two-month investigation, led by former New York City sex crimes prosecutor Lisa Friel, started after the criminal charges against Hardy were dismissed in February.
A district judge in July found Hardy guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill Nicole Holder during the altercation last May at his uptown condo. Hardy appealed and was granted a jury trial. The misdemeanor charges were dropped when prosecutors failed to locate Holder to testify in February.
Prosecutors said at the time that they had “reliable information” Holder received a settlement from Hardy to address any potential civil claims.
Friel and the league’s investigators were unable to interview Holder despite numerous attempts to talk to her, according to the league’s release.
“It is not known whether that is the result of her entering into a civil settlement with Hardy or other factors,” the league said in its release.
But after speaking with witnesses, meeting with Hardy on March 4 and March 10 and reviewing hundreds of court documents – as well as photos of Holder’s injuries the NFL obtained after suing the Mecklenburg County district attorney’s office – investigators determined Hardy used force against Holder four times during the May 13 altercation by:
▪ Pushing her into a bathtub.
▪ Throwing her onto a futon covered with at least four semi-automatic weapons.
▪ Putting his hands around her neck with enough pressure to leave “visible marks.”
▪ And shoving her against a wall in a hallway.
“The net effect of these acts was that Ms. Holder was severely traumatized and sustained a range of injuries, including bruises and scratches on her neck, shoulders, upper chest, back, arms and feet,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wrote in a letter to Hardy explaining his decision.
“The use of physical force under the circumstances present here, against a woman substantially smaller than you and in the presence of powerful, military-style assault weapons, constitutes a significant act of violence in violation of the Personal Conduct Policy.”
Goodell ordered Hardy to undergo a clinical evaluation and participate in any treatment or counseling that might be recommended.
Friel’s investigation found Hardy failed to provide complete and accurate information to NFL investigators and members of the league’s staff. Hardy’s attorneys did not produce a copy of the settlement and did not acknowledge that one exists, the league said.
The suspension comes after the NFL has spent the past year embroiled in domestic violence issues, most notably after former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice hit and then dragged his then-finacee out of an elevator in Atlantic City, N.J. Last summer, the league implemented stronger discipline against those who commit domestic violence.
The league minimum for a first-time domestic violence offender is six games. But in Hardy’s case, the league found he engaged in conduct detrimental to the league that would have merited a 10-game suspension even before the new policy was instituted.
Hardy’s appeal is expected to be similar to that of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who was first placed on the commissioner’s exempt list last season and then sat out for the final six games under suspension for hitting his 4-year-old son with a wooden switch.
Peterson and Hardy were charged before the league enacted a tougher personal conduct policy. Peterson’s indefinite suspension was eventually overturned by a U.S. District Court judge.
Hardy took to Twitter shortly after the suspension was announced Wednesday evening to retweet fans’ expressions of support for him and dissatisfaction with what they viewed as Hardy being punished twice for one incident.
Hardy, who signed an incentive-laden, one-year deal with the Cowboys, could lose as much as $5.8 million if he sits 10 games. Hardy made $13.1 million last year despite playing in just one game for the Panthers.
“This suspension is something we anticipated prior to Greg’s signing, and we respect the Commissioner’s ruling,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement. “Our organization understands the very serious nature of this matter. We will use our resources – work closely with Greg and with the league – to ensure a positive outcome.”
A Panthers spokesman said the team would not have a statement regarding Hardy since the team doesn’t comment on players under contract with another team.
At least one of Hardy’s former teammates from Carolina went on social media to express frustration over the suspension.
Panthers defensive end Charles Johnson tweeted: “Did my boy so dirty #ReleaseTheKraken.”
The Panthers used the franchise tag on Hardy last spring after he tied a single-season team record with 15 sacks in 2013. Two months later, Hardy made a 911 call from his apartment after he and Holder got into an argument at his condo after a night of drinking and partying.
Hardy claimed Holder came after him with a heeled shoe.
But in announcing a guilty verdict after nearly 10 hours of testimony during the bench trial last July, District Judge Becky Thorne Tin said she thought Hardy fabricated the 911 call.
Person: 704-358-5123; @josephperson;
Jones: 704-358-5323; @jjones9