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Sorensen: Ray Rice’s punishment sets bar for Panthers’ Greg Hardy

We’d seen the video of Ray Rice dragging his unconscious fiancée from an Atlantic City, N.J., casino elevator. She was on the floor, and we were left to imagine what Rice did to put her there.

I doubt any of us came up with the same image. And I doubt the image was as violent as Rice was.

On Monday, TMZ released a second video, a video from inside the elevator. Rice’s employers, the Baltimore Ravens, then released Rice.

Rice’s punch is succinct and powerful and Janay Palmer, now his wife, smacks her head against a rail on the way to the floor.

To see the punch is to understand that the NFL and the Ravens had to find a way, even it was manufactured, to keep Rice off the field. Had they not Rice would have been suspended only two games, and the running back would have made his 2014 debut on the road Sept. 21 against the Cleveland Browns.

Rice would have been cheered. Many fans would have cheered even after seeing the second video. He might be a sick guy – you don’t do what he did if you’re anything but sick – but he’s Baltimore’s sick guy. The response would be no different at Bank of America Stadium if Rice had played the past six seasons for Carolina.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized for suspending Rice only two games for domestic violence. The league said it did not see the TMZ video of Rice’s punch until Monday.

An organization enacts rules to help it navigate unexpected situations such as Rice’s. The NFL’s rules obviously were convoluted and insufficient and Goodell acknowledges the punishment was inappropriately light.

What, then, should Greg Hardy’s punishment be if his appeal fails?

Hardy, Carolina’s star defensive end, was convicted in July of assaulting his girlfriend and communicating threats.

He immediately appealed both misdemeanor convictions, which means that despite the convictions he is entitled to start over. He was guilty and now he’s not, not until his appeal is heard.

Hardy’s jury trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 17. But his attorney has been steadfast in his contention that the trial will take place after the season.

You’d hope Hardy could not parlay his celebrity status into a favorable court date.

You’d also hope Hardy would not be punished for his celebrity status with an unfavorable court date.

That is, don’t push the date back because Hardy is famous. Don’t move the date up because Hardy is famous.

The Panthers could have suspended Hardy, who is tied to Carolina only for the remainder of the 2014 season. But the Panthers did what teams now do; they got out of the way and allowed Hardy to take advantage of the rights our legal system confers.

This doesn’t mean Carolina executives were anything less than appalled. Domestic violence is a charge that makes every NFL executive and coach wince.

Hardy, 26, is an elite pass rusher, one of the NFL’s best.

Yet despite his talents, honed and nurtured with Carolina, I’ll be shocked if he’s a Panther next season.

Domestic violence makes most of us wince. If we’re males, we have a wife or a girlfriend, a mom or an aunt, a sister or a daughters. In January my older son and his girlfriend will become parents, and I wonder, as do they, what kind of world will greet their daughter.

The Panthers were justified letting Hardy play.

If he’s convicted – whenever his trial takes place – it will be a long time before he plays again.

When an issue such as domestic violence shifts from the front page and the local page to the sports page, the attention can be a catalyst for change.

Did we need to see the second video? Did we need to see Rice punch his now wife?

If the video convinces one angry male to think before he acts, yes we did.

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