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Carolina Panthers’ Ron Rivera makes best of emotional Greg Hardy situation

Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was talking and he was emotional and the longer he talked the more emotional he became.

The subject was Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy. Of course it was Hardy. The Panthers on Wednesday placed their star defensive end on the league’s Exempt List, giving him a leave of absence with pay.

Two months ago Hardy was convicted of domestic violence and communicating threats, and immediately appealed.

The Panthers allowed Hardy to go through training camp and play in the season opener at Tampa Bay. They deactivated him Sunday, and he did not play against Detroit.

Early last week, the video of Baltimore’s Ray Rice knocking his then fiancée to an elevator floor with one punch was released. Late last week Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse, and the Vikings immediately deactivated him.

For some, the Hardy decision was easy. Suspend Hardy, release Hardy and maybe recruit angry and villagers with torches to go after Hardy.

Or, get out of the way and let Hardy play. And maybe put on a Hardy jersey while you do it.

For many of us, the decision was never easy.

“The biggest thing we all have to understand is we have to get this right,” said Rivera, who stood behind a lectern Wednesday. “We really do. In all honesty we’re worried about the wrong types of things. We’re trying to figure out who to blame.

“We don’t need to blame people. We need to find answers and corrections and make things right for people. That’s what this should really be about.”

The pressure on the Panthers to act increased hourly. Rice was kicked out of the NFL and the sudden anger over the video was transferred. Minnesota acted quickly to bench Peterson, and the anger was transferred. Now it was Hardy’s turn.

Details from his trial, details that make most of us recoil, received much more national attention than they had in July. The nation looked Carolina’s way and asked: You’re allowing this guy to represent the Panthers on Sunday afternoons?

Rivera, who has a wife and daughter, was asked if public pressure forced the Panthers to act.

“I’m just saying the climate changed,” said Rivera. “And I had to make a decision on Sunday that I believed was prudent. I made a decision that I felt was best for everybody. A lot of distractions out there and there are a lot of people getting blamed for something they had nothing to do (with).”

Charlie Dayton, the team’s director of communications, approached Rivera. Like blinking lights at last call, Dayton’s walk to the lectern meant the news conference was about to end.

Rivera waved him off.

“I’m all right, Charlie,” Rivera said. “Just give me a second on this.”

In sports, and politics and business, this is what you rarely find – somebody who is willing to be candid even though he knows he’ll be criticized for it.

“You know, there are two ladies who work in this building, and they answer the phone, and people call and they get after them about the decisions I make,” said Rivera. “OK? They don’t deserve to have that. They’re people. They’re women, they’re mothers, they’re sisters, they’re grandmothers and people call and want to complain about the decision I make.

“So I struggle with it. That makes it very hard on me. When I have to make a decision, I make decisions that I believe are in the best interest of this organization and don’t forget that.”

The Panthers aren’t trained to handle an issue such as Hardy’s. They could have handled it more efficiently.

But, in front of everybody, they handled it.

To suggest that Rivera and owner Jerry Richardson and general manager Dave Gettleman don’t care, as many have, means that you don’t know them. They probably reached the only conclusion they could.

The issue was emotional and complex and draining. The next time it happens, they’ll know better what to do.

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