Wearing red and white shoes, a white V-neck T-shirt and jeans, Greg Hardy met with the media Sunday.
Hardy, the Carolina Panthers’ star defensive end, looked down when the six-minute news conference began. We were told that Hardy would talk only about football, and six times he declined to respond to a question.
At first he offered brief answers even to queries about football. But as the news conference wore on, he looked up, smiled a half smile, and became more talkative.
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What he didn’t do: Apologize to the franchise, the fans and his family for the mess he created.
Nothing he said – not a single answer – implied he was contrite.
Hardy was convicted July 15 of assaulting and threatening to kill ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder.
He has appealed, and will receive a jury trial.
Because he’s appealed, Hardy didn’t need to apologize to Holder.
But the episode embarrassed his team and at least some of the fans who want to believe in him and the Panthers.
Domestic violence is a heinous crime, a crime that makes every NFL owner, general manager and coach cringe. It would make your employer cringe.
Hardy, 25, 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds, could have used the news conference to, without acknowledging guilt, talk about domestic violence.
He could have applied a small piece of the $13.1 million he’ll make this season to assist victims of the crime.
Former Panther Steve Smith hosted an event late last season at a Charlotte shelter for battered women. To get inside, you had to pass through a series of electronically controlled gates. It was like walking into a prison. But these gates are designed to keep the bad guys out.
As Hardy ran onto the field for practice Sunday, one fan yelled, “Keep your head up!” Several fans shouted encouragement at practice Saturday night, and Hardy tried to make eye contact and acknowledge each.
Yet, he has many detractors, many of whom question why the Panthers didn’t suspend him.
The Panthers have the option. The NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement says that the success of the league depends in part on public perception. Under the Code of Conduct, a player can be suspended even without being convicted.
Hardy, of course, was convicted, after which he immediately appealed. When he did, the process started over. He didn’t have to pay a fine. He didn’t have to take classes to manage his anger.
By appealing, Hardy is telling his employers he’s not guilty. What do the Panthers do? Do they conduct their own investigation? Do they tell him they don’t believe him? Do they tell him they do?
The Panthers will allow the legal process to proceed. Hardy will get a jury trial, likely after the season.
He’s tethered to Carolina for only a year. So the Panthers could let him walk when the season ends and never have to make the call.
Question: If the domestic violence charges had emerged before the Panthers applied the franchise tag, would Hardy be a Panther?
The 2014 season will test him on two counts.
He has to avoid trouble. Even if Hardy wants to have a loud and rollicking good time, he should have it privately. His employers have to be furious about the charges and the convictions.
To replicate the behavior that helped get him in trouble – loud clubs, long nights and a lot of mostly inexpensive guns – mocks the Panthers for believing in him. Even if Hardy believes he did nothing wrong and is entitled to live the way he has, he can fake it.
Hardy will have less control over his performance on the field. Sacks are tough to come by.
Last season Hardy collected them. He’ll benefit greatly if 2014 is as good or better.
The more he runs down quarterbacks the more fans will be willing forgive his convictions.
We are a forgiving people. We like to offer our public figures a second chance.
But before we do they have to acknowledge that they made a mistake. They have to at least act as if they care. They have to apologize.