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Sorensen: Gettleman, Richardson should explain Panthers stance on Hardy

Ron Rivera worked overtime Sunday. He coached the Carolina Panthers to a 24-7 victory against the Detroit Lions. Then he served, yet again, as the team’s lone spokesman for all things Greg Hardy.

Hardy was convicted in July of domestic violence and communicating threats, and he has appealed. In the wake of the Ray Rice video released last week, and Minnesota’s decision to deactivate running back Adrian Peterson, who was charged with child abuse, the pressure on the Panthers to get Hardy off the field was considerable.

Yet all week, and as recently as Friday, Rivera had said Hardy would play. Late Sunday morning, however, the Panthers deactivated their star defensive end. Deactivate sounds like something you would do to a robot.

Many questions at the postgame news conference were about Hardy. Rivera’s answers were uncharacteristically terse. He would have preferred to talk about his team’s good work.

But he knew the questions were legitimate. The NFL is a great diversion. But even it is trumped by an issue such as domestic violence that can change, ruin or end a life.

My question: Why was Rivera charged with representing the team?

The decision to remove Hardy was made by Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman. Owner Jerry Richardson certainly was involved. If he didn’t help shape the decision, he certainly could have vetoed it.

Where were Gettleman and Richardson?

When the Panthers opened training camp in Charlotte this summer, before reporting to Spartanburg, Gettleman answered questions about Hardy.

I would like to have heard Sunday from Gettleman and, perhaps, Richardson.

Neither man has addressed the issue. Neither has explained the decision to play Hardy in the opener against Tampa Bay or to bench him against Detroit.

Fans invest emotion, and often money, in the Panthers. They know the team’s personality. The Hardy issue helps define the organization’s.

It could have been easy.

Example:

Gettleman (and perhaps Richardson) enters the press box at noon, an hour before kickoff. Gettleman announces that he speaks for the team and that after the game Rivera will answer only questions about football. Gettleman opens with a statement, answers questions and is out by 12:30.

The Panthers are figuring out the Hardy issue as they go, and that’s understandable. A team prepares for the unexpected. It doesn’t prepare for the unprecedented.

Nothing in the playbook explains how to react when a star is convicted of a heinous crime and then appeals.

The NFL might relieve the pressure on the Panthers by making the decision for them. I hope not. Just as states have rights, teams do, too.

Richardson campaigned vigorously for Roger Goodell to become the NFL commissioner. They’re friends, and the respect they have for each other is enormous.

Perhaps Richardson has more pull than most owners. If so, I’d like to see him use it to enable his team, and not the league, to determine Hardy’s football future.

I’m not lobbying for the Panthers to suspend him. If – as I’ve written – I made the call, Hardy would play against Pittsburgh and he would have played against Detroit.

To some of you, the decision is simple. I find it terribly complex, and suspect the Panthers concur.

Whatever they decide, they owe fans an explanation.

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