Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera is a good man in a bad situation. He is obviously struggling with what the best thing to do is in the Greg Hardy situation, and there are no easy answers.
But here’s what I would do. Rivera should deactivate Hardy for one more game, on Sunday night against Pittsburgh. And then, starting Sept.28 at Baltimore, the coach should let Hardy play until his trial.
Hardy didn’t play in Carolina’s victory over Detroit Sunday because Rivera deactivated him shortly before kickoff. Nevertheless, Carolina won.
The score was 24-7. The coverage was also 24-7 – as in 24 hours, seven days a week worth of opinions on Hardy and how severely the team should penalize him (if at all) for originally being found guilty of assaulting and threatening his former girlfriend in a domestic violence case that he is now appealing.
One of the more endearing traits about the Panthers head coach is that – unlike his immediate predecessor in the job – Rivera doesn’t pretend to know everything. He admittedly had a hard time making the decision whether to play Hardy on Sunday.
Said Rivera Monday: “Part of the reason why I made the decision is because if you play him and you win, then it’s ‘You don’t have a conscience.’ If you play him and you lose, then he’s a distraction.”
Rivera didn’t play the Panthers’ Pro Bowl defensive end and Carolina still won, and the same thing could happen again Sunday at home vs. Pittsburgh.
Regardless of wins or losses, though, it’s the right thing to do.
As I wrote last Friday, about 48 hours before Rivera deactivated Hardy, the Panthers messed this up originally by letting Hardy play in the season opener. It looked like the move of a win-at-all-costs mercenary team – in other words, it looked too much like something the San Francisco 49ers would do.
But the Panthers still had time to make a public stand on the issue of domestic violence by not letting Hardy play in at least two games, thereby putting some teeth into owner Jerry Richardson’s tearful speech last week, when he said he doesn’t condone domestic violence.
You probably don’t agree with a two-game sitdown for Hardy, right? Almost everyone I talk to is very far on either one side or the other of this issue.
The Panthers should fire Hardy outright and never let him play again, some say. Others say they should let Hardy have his jury trial starting Nov. 17 and not punish him at all.
But there is some middle ground here, and the Panthers are halfway there as they try to find it.
Hardy is correctly being allowed to practice with the team – he showed up Monday in a tight hoodie and ignored reporters asking for comment. The Panthers are exploring their options. And in a few days, Rivera – in consultation with Richardson and general manager Dave Gettleman – will have to make another call.
The late deactivation of Hardy on Sunday had the feel of a reactionary move, but I thought it was better that it came late than not at all.
So did the Panthers err the first time by letting Hardy play – a decision that came under far greater scrutiny after the Ray Rice “punch” video went viral?
“I don’t know,” Rivera said. “What is right? We do the best we can, though. Hey, nobody’s infallible. We all make mistakes. We all correct those mistakes and we try to go forward. ... We have to get this issue correct. We’ve got to do the right things and we’re trying to do the right things.”
After sitting in the courtroom for all of Hardy’s trial in front of a judge in July, I will tell you that neither Hardy nor his former girlfriend will be nominated for sainthood any time soon.
Beyond that, it’s hard to say where the truth lies. But listening to the testimony in that courtroom made me realize that Hardy put himself in a situation that has really allowed the Panthers’ name to be dragged through the mud.
The Panthers needed to do something substantive to show they weren’t OK with that. They did it Sunday. They humbled Hardy – although they still paid him about $770,000 not to play, so he wasn’t that humbled.
Nevertheless, they need to echo the same point against the Steelers.
Rivera keeps saying it was “in the best interests” of the Panthers to keep Hardy out Sunday against Detroit. It would be in the team’s best interests to keep him out against Pittsburgh, too.