Scott Fowler

Scott Fowler: Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson still has time to get it right on domestic violence

They didn’t get it right.

Ultimately, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson have that in common. They have mishandled domestic violence issues, and the consequences keep reverberating.

In Goodell’s case, I don’t think it can be fixed. He should be fired because of the lack of institutional control at the NFL offices and the tone-deaf approach he has taken to the Ray Rice domestic violence case. The only people who can fire Goodell are the NFL owners, though, and he has made billions of dollars for them. So this may not happen, although it should.

As for Richardson, I am glad he tearfully disavowed domestic violence Wednesday night at an awards dinner in Charlotte. But it is time for Richardson to put action behind those words.

Don’t just say something.

Do something.

Richardson’s team has looked like a mercenary in the Greg Hardy domestic violence case, barely uttering a word in public after a judge found Hardy guilty of assaulting a female and communicating threats in connection with a May 13 confrontation with his former girlfriend. Hardy’s former girlfriend, Nicole Holder, testified that the player threw her on a couch filled with guns and also put his hands around her neck.

“He looked me in my eyes, and he told me he was going to kill me,” Holder said in court. “I was so scared I wanted to die.” Hardy told a far different version of events, saying he never hurt Holder, that any wounds she received that night were self-inflicted and that she threatened to kill herself.

I understand that the Panthers and the NFL are letting the legal process play out. Hardy has appealed the verdict, and a jury trial is scheduled for Nov. 17. It will be a public-relations nightmare for the Panthers if this happens.

But the Panthers’ hands are not tied. Neither were the Baltimore Ravens’ hands, but they basically did nothing to Rice for a very long time, and look where it got them. Baltimore’s owner sent a letter to team fans this week that read in part, “Why didn’t we act earlier?” It never really answers that question, but it admits to being too passive in the entire matter.

The Panthers and the NFL were well within their rights under league rules to punish Hardy with a suspension. That has not happened. Hardy will play Sunday against Detroit. About the most the Panthers have said is that Hardy’s situation is “very concerning and very disappointing” (via general manager Dave Gettleman), which sounds more like the language you’d use when your child brought home a “D” in social studies.

Richardson, whose aversion to answering reporters’ questions in public has grown so strong he sometimes goes entire years without doing so, has done himself and his team no favors by staying silent on the Hardy case. At the least, a statement should have been issued by the owner. Something like: “These accusations are heartbreaking to me. This is not the Carolina way. This is not what the Panthers stand for.”

Put that with a two-game suspension for Hardy and then let the rest of the process play out. The Panthers could have and should have at least done that. Even if the NFL Players Association appealed successfully on Hardy’s behalf and he didn’t miss time, at least the Panthers would have sent the correct message.

I don’t believe Hardy should have been released outright – he deserves his day in court before it is decided whether he should lose his job – but something substantive should have been done.

The Panthers have done better before in somewhat similar situations. In 2002, the Panthers fired a starting offensive tackle, Chris Terry, after the former second-round pick failed to appear in court after his arrest following a domestic dispute with his wife. In 2008, the Panthers suspended Steve Smith two games for punching teammate Ken Lucas.

As for Goodell: It is hard to fathom that the TMZ website could get the video of Rice inside the elevator knocking his fiancee (who is now his wife) unconscious and the NFL could not. Now a law enforcement official has told the AP he sent the video to an NFL executive five months ago.

Goodell once told the New Orleans Saints’ upper management “ignorance is not an excuse” during the Bountygate scandal. The same goes for this scandal. Ignorance is no excuse.

Even if the video didn’t get kicked upstairs and Goodell hadn’t seen it after it was delivered to the NFL office in April, he should have seen it. He should have demanded more. The most powerful sports league in America had the reach to get multiple copies of that video.

All of it sounds shady, which is why Thursday’s New York Daily News front-page headline screamed “National Football Liars.”

Goodell probably won’t lose his job unless it can be proved he has lied about what he knew and when he knew it, but he has certainly lost his credibility with most fans. The pink cleats NFL players wear every October will ring hollow this year, because over the past few months it has not appeared the league cares about its female customers.

Domestic violence is not a new issue, and the Panthers have had far more experience with the issue than they wish. The most horrific example of domestic violence in NFL history happened in 1999, when former Panthers No. 1 draft pick Rae Carruth masterminded a plot to kill a woman who was pregnant with his child.

Carruth didn’t pull the trigger, but he may as well have. The former wide receiver is serving an 18-year prison sentence for conspiring to murder Cherica Adams.

The Panthers released Carruth shortly after he fled the state and was found hiding in the trunk of a car in Tennessee, citing a morals clause in his contract.

But in the Hardy situation, the Panthers have been far too quiet.

The team’s lack of communication has inevitably given rise to all sorts of conspiracy theories and unanswered questions, such as: Why would Hardy have met with his attorney on Wednesday and skipped a heavy practice day to do so, when the Panthers were off on Tuesday and also have close to half a day off on Mondays?

The national spotlight is about to move from Rice to Hardy and to San Francisco’s Ray McDonald, who is also being investigated for abuse allegations but has not been charged. Something big is coming.

And the Panthers better get in front of this wave before they are swallowed by it.

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