If you follow me on Twitter, you probably noticed that I was preoccupied by baseball last month. October baseball is the reason baseball fans wait all year long. Now that baseball has well and truly ended – with my Kansas City Royals as the world champions – I can turn my attention to football with an equal rabidity.
I don’t like what I see.
I’m a Dallas Cowboys fan. I have been since I was kid in southwest Missouri, which is odd. In that section of the country you are a Chiefs fan if you are anything, but the woman that I call my second mother, and whom I credit with saving my life when I was in middle school, was a Cowboys fan. Through her I was able to understand football and make sense of the game. Because of her, I am (was?) a proud supporter of America’s team.
I’ve been following the team for almost 30 years. Every Sunday I’ve put on my Cowboys’ shirt or pulled a player’s jersey out the closet to wear. My husband and I have been to Jerry’s World twice for games – not an inexpensive endeavor when you figure in tickets at $150 – 200/each, plus hotel rooms, and travel to Dallas from the Gulf Coast.
As long as Greg Hardy is a member of the Dallas Cowboys’ organization, I cannot support the team.
Greg Hardy and the Dallas Cowboys
In March of 2015, the Dallas Cowboys signed defensive end Greg Hardy to a deal that was originally purported to be for $11.3 million. The Cowboys signed Greg Hardy to that deal knowing that he had missed the majority of the 2014 season & that he was looking at a possible 10 game suspension in 2015. The National Football League Players Association negotiated Hardy’s 10 game suspension down to a 4 game hiatus for this year’s season.Winning at any cost is not a value we want our young men to emulate. Click To Tweet
Why did Hardy miss the 2014 season and why would he be facing the possibility of missing the majority of the 2015 season? Because he had been convicted of domestic violence. The charges against Hardy included assault and threatening – he threatened to kill his girlfriend, Nicole Holder after or while he was assaulting her. As we know now thanks to photos and police reports that Deadspin has released, that not only was he a little rough with Holder but he beat the hell out of her.
At this point let me mention that in the NFL, if you get caught with marijuana in your system – a second time – your punishment is a 3 game suspension. If you are arrested for DUI, for a first offense, you are suspended for 2 games. Get popped again and you’re out for 8 weeks. Beat the shit out of a woman and you’ll miss 4 games.
Just so we understand what we’re dealing with here.
In the meantime, Hardy has served his suspension and begun play with the Cowboys, collecting on his 11.3 million dollar paycheck. His legal record has been EXPUNGED because after he was found guilty, using his rights as afforded by North Carolina law, he appealed, requesting a jury trial. Holder did not show at that appeal hearing, and the prosecutor speculated that she was now uncooperative because she had reached a civil settlement with Hardy, which was widely reported in the media. In the eyes of the law, Hardy now officially has done nothing wrong.
He has no record of domestic violence.
Even before Deadspin released the police reports and photos, Hardy’s tenure with the Cowboys has not been without controversy. Besides the odd comments about Brady’s wife, there was an intense confrontation with a coach on the field. Most recently, Hardy has been late to team meetings. After the confrontation on the field, Cowboys’ owner said that Hardy was a leader on the team, saying that he inspired the entire team. Head Coach Jason Garrett also defended Hardy, saying, “…I think he has a positive influence on a lot of guys on our team….”
Cowboys’ leadership has gone all in on Hardy.
Reaction to the Release of the Deadspin Report
There has predictably been a firestorm of reaction to the release of the Deadspin report. It’s one thing to hear that a woman has been abused. You conjure up vague images of a bruised woman and feel a pang of sympathy. When you see photos of the effect of the abuse, hear the 9-1-1 calls, and read eye-witness reports, you begin to get a different understanding of what abuse means and looks like.
The Cowboys have doubled down on Hardy, stating that they are committed to giving him a second chance and the expectations for his behavior have been made clear. Given that Hardy continues to portray himself as a victim and to apparently flaunt team expectations, I am not at all sure who clear those expectations are.More than 10 million people each year are victims of domestic violence. Click To Tweet
Despite a petition – started by a fan of a rival team – asking the NFL Commissioner to remove Hardy from the NFL completely that has garnered over 35,000 signatures, if you read Cowboys’ fan comments on Twitter or Facebook, you find the vocal majority of them support keeping Greg Hardy on the team. The comments run the gamut from everyone deserves a second chance to those along the lines of “I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened in that apartment that night” to “If we start kicking players out for this then there won’t be any players left in the NFL.” Even with the photos readily available, many fans question whether Hardy actually hurt Holder and go so far as to say that if she wasn’t willing to testify, if she let him pay her off, then it must not have been that bad.
That, of course, ignores what we know about the psychology of the battered woman.
Charles Barkley, former NBA player and current sports commentator, provides a defense for Hardy that many seem to echo. According to Barkley, not only does Hardy deserve a second chance, he deserves a “chance to get better.” Barkley offers up statistics about domestic violence – including that EVERY MINUTE 20 people are victims of physical violence by a spouse or partner. Barkley states that he understands how wrong domestic violence is, and tellingly he says he understands how Greg Hardy has escaped punishment.
Greg Hardy has gotten away with a lot—because he’s a good football player, and because he’s got access to good attorneys. He hasn’t gone to jail, and he’s still on the field, playing for an owner who’s backing him up. He needs to take a look in the mirror and realize how lucky he’s been. He needs to get real and serious about expressing his remorse to Nicole Holder…
Barkley says that Hardy needs the opportunity to show us – and himself – that he has changed. The problem is that it doesn’t appear that Hardy has even taken the first steps towards accepting responsibility for what has happened to him. During the height of the backlash against him, Hardy changed his twitter bio to this:
Innocent until proven guilty. Lack of knowledge and information is just ignorance – the unjust prejudicial treatment of (different) categories of people is discrimination.
Let’s not forget that the reason why Hardy isn’t in a jail cell is because he paid his victim to keep her mouth shut. Instead of facing the legal consequences for his actions, he is getting an opportunity to “get better” while making millions of dollars (to pay off his next victim?) and continuing to engage in problematic behavior.
Why The Way We Win Matters
By all accounts, Hardy was signed to the Dallas Cowboys because he is a beast on the field. His presence hasn’t made an impact on America’s Team’s win-loss record. That’s not entirely due to his performance – he has recorded 4 sacks, 1 interception, and 16 tackles in the short time that he has been active – but rather more of a constellation of problems that Cowboys have faced this year – including having their quarterback out for most of the season. The fact that Hardy hasn’t had much effect on the Cowboy’s performance makes the storm surrounding his behavior seem even more costly, even though the organization continues to maintain that Hardy is not a problem or a distraction.If teams cannot win by employing men of integrity, then perhaps they do not deserve to win. Click To Tweet
For me, this matters because whether athletes want to accept the mantle or not, they are role models. When discussing the Hardy situation with my students – all of whom are in high school, some of whom are athletes with enough talent to perhaps garner themselves a future at least in college – the first comment was, “She must have done something really bad for him to hurt her like that.”
Let that sink in.
When you combine the statistic of 20 people every minute become a victim of domestic violence with a continued and pervasive tendency to blame the victim, every time a high profile abuser is able to escape taking responsibility for his actions, a message gets sent to both victims and perpetrators. To the victims, the message is that if he is talented enough…and has enough money…then he can get away with whatever he wants, which was Barkley’s point above.
In the NFL and college football ranks, we see the truth of this matter again and again. The perpetrators begin to believe that if they are talented enough, they can get away with anything…and they are for the most part proven right.Paying a man like Hardy to continue to play shows we approve of his actions & behavior Click To Tweet
For my students who think that it’s OK to blame the victim, allowing Hardy to rehabilitate himself while earning millions, reinforces their belief. I’ve had students tell me that they’ve gotten a little physical with their girlfriends, that they have put their hands on a woman and then excuse it. I understand that part of this problem is that they see and experience this behavior first hand, but a larger issue is that as a society we condone it. When we essentially reward bad behavior with our financial support, we say that behavior is acceptable and OK.
Actions speak louder than words and paying men like Hardy exorbitant sums means that we at least tacitly approve of his behavior. We can say that we deplore abuse all we want, but the slap on the wrist that Hardy has received much more effectively communications our support for him and men like him.
Hardy attended the University of Mississippi, where his behavior was also problematic. Living in the state of Mississippi, Hardy gets seen as a local boy who made it. Our football players are looking up to a man who expresses no remorse and accepts no responsibility. That piece of shit is getting paid more than 11 million dollars this year, and that’s all my students see or hear…that he is still getting paid so it must be OK, what he did must not have been that bad.Allowing Hardy to rehabilitate while earning millions, reinforces a victim-blaming mentality Click To Tweet
Mr. Barkley is certainly right in that Greg Hardy deserves a chance to get better. But he doesn’t deserve to make millions while he’s doing it. Winning at any cost is not a value we want our young men to emulate. Mr. Barkley is concerned about “throwing away” black men, but advocating for Hardy is setting the stage to “throw away” a younger generation – both young men who see such behavior as acceptable and young women who begin to believe that they have no value or power.
Football is a game, but it is one that we pay athletes millions of dollars to play. We turn the players into icons. People wear their favorite players names on their backs each week. You can even put Hardy’s name on your back for a minimum price tag of $96.99. Every Sunday, people across this country can walk out into world and advertise their admiration for and support for a man who beat a woman so severely that she thought she was going to die (who in fact said she wanted to die because the abuse was so traumatic) and who expresses no contrition or remorse while continuing to behave badly.
That matters. It sends a message – a strong one – to the world about what is acceptable and what is profitable.
As For Me and My House
I can get fired up about a lot of things. I’m really good at posting rants on Facebook, having heated conversations with friends and family, and exhorting others to do better. Sometimes advocacy is enough. But as a survivor of an abusive relationship, in this case, advocacy isn’t enough. While I was never hit and it took me a long time to see that what was happening to me was in fact abuse – both verbal and sexual – I diminish myself as a survivor and I silence vital parts of my story when I support a team that employs and makes excuses for an abuser who sees nothing wrong with his behavior.
As I said above, I have been a Cowboy’s fan for approximately a three-fourths of my life. I’ve suffered through the bad years. I’ve celebrated during the good years (& last year was a good year). But this year, I can’t do it. I can’t wear the gear; the jersey’s will hang in the closest; the television will be on another channel.
While Greg Hardy wears the star of America’s Team, I can’t support the team.
Perhaps even more difficult for me to say is that in hearing the excuses made to justify Hardy’s continued employment, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to support the Cowboys again. Initially I thought that when Hardy left the team, I could go back to being a fan – if they could put him behind us, then I could too.
The more I think about it, though, the more I do not know at all if I can support an organization that aids and abets such deplorable behavior.
I don’t mean just the Dallas Cowboys – I mean the NFL as a whole.
The NFL is a multi-billion dollar a year industry. They can easily set standards of conduct with real teeth; they can say if you can’t control yourself, you won’t be collecting a paycheck from us. They can demand that their teams win the right way – displaying sportsmanship and morality both on and off the field. Sadly, it appears that they don’t particularly care about the problem of abuse within their ranks. There are numerous accounts of wives/girlfriends being pressured to keep quiet, to not call the police, to think of the team before themselves.
If teams cannot win games by employing men who evidence integrity – men like Greg Hardy’s teammate Jason Witten, who grew up with an abusive father and knows firsthand how damaging and destructive domestic violence can be – then perhaps they do not deserve to win. I have said that I don’t care if the Cowboys win another game this year, that it is their karma for employing a worm like Hardy. I mean that.I cannot support an organization that condones & supports domestic violence Click To Tweet
This year I will be donating the money I would have spent on a jersey to the Gulf Coast Women’s Center for Nonviolence. I will continue having conversations with my students about how there is never an excuse to put your hands on another person regardless of what the superstars of sport may tell us.
More than that, though, I will think long and hard about what it means to support an organization that repeatedly minimizes the importance of the safety of 45% of its audience. The Dallas Cowboys and the NFL want my money, but their refusal to address the problem of violence against women within their own ranks as well as the wider society as a whole shows me where women land in the hierarchy. The question becomes one of whether I’m OK with that or not.
Right now I’m leaning towards not – for both the Dallas Cowboys and the NFL.
If you are experiencing violence within your relationship, there is support and help available to you. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available 24/7.