If we’ve learned anything over the past week, as more damaging reports on the domestic violence allegations against Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy have emerged, it’s that the NFL hasn’t learned anything at all. Or, at least, not nearly as much as they should have.
Last fall, after the video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiance in the elevator video became public, commissioner Roger Goodell stated adamantly, “We will get our house in order.” The league talked to hundreds of domestic violence experts, donated millions of dollars to the cause, revamped its personal conduct policy and created a mandatory program to educate the entire league on domestic violence.
“Last September we looked around the room and said, ‘We can absolutely make a positive change on these issues,’” Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s vice president of social responsibility, told ThinkProgress in September. “We felt that was our responsibility.”
READ MORE: After Ray Rice, The NFL Pledged Millions To Fight Domestic Violence. Here’s How The Money Was Spent.
But on Wednesday, days after releasing a detailed report and graphic photos from the night that Hardy abused his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder on May 12, 2014, Deadspin released the transcript from the NFL hearing to reinstate Hardy. This transcript, the league’s decision to reinstate Hardy, and the Dallas Cowboys’ signing and continual support of its star player, show that little, if any, progress has been made.
The transcript reveals that Hardy’s attorney, Frank Maister, presented a defense that attacked Holder’s character and mental stability, often on grounds of sexual promiscuity, and painted Hardy as the victim. He even claimed that Holder “tripped” and fell into the bathtub, and that’s what caused her bruises.
But it’s not just the fact that Maister used these tactics that’s disturbing, it’s that the NFL — particularly Lisa Friel, a former sex crimes prosecutor who was hired by the league last fall to help with domestic violence investigations — allowed it to happen.
“At no point does anyone, most notably Friel, whose job once made her essentially an advocate for domestic violence victims, pressure either Maister or Hardy on the broader narrative that Hardy was himself the victim this night,” Deadspin wrote.
To briefly recap, Hardy was found guilty of domestic violence — namely, throwing Holder against a bathtub wall, choking her, and throwing her on a futon covered with assault rifles — by a judge in Charlotte, North Carolina, but had that verdict vacated by requesting a jury trial. Days before the jury trial in February 2015, the Charlotte District Attorney announced that he was no longer pressing charges because Holder had disappeared and stopped cooperating, and he had heard rumors of a civil settlement.
Hardy spent all but one game of the 2014 NFL season on paid leave, was reinstated and became a free agent in March, and was subsequently signed by the Cowboys. He was handed a 10-game suspension by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for violating the personal conduct policy, which was reduced to four games after an appeal by the players association.
Throughout it all, Hardy has shown little to no remorse. Since coming back in the fifth week of the season, Hardy has made sexist comments, fought with teammates and coaches, and stated that he’s going to come out “guns blazin’.” On Wednesday, the same day the Deadspin report came out, Hardy temporarily changed his biography on Twitter to read, “Innocent until proven guilty — lack of knowledge & information is just ignorance — the unjust/prejudicial treatment of diff categories of people is discrimination.”
Barry Goldstein, a domestic violence expert and the author of The Quincy Solution: Stop Domestic Violence and Save $500 Billion, told ThinkProgress that it’s common for batterers to paint themselves as victims.
“Research on batterer narratives has proven that most batterers would say it’s wrong for a man to hit a woman, but they add an ‘except’ to that statement,” Goldstein said, adding that the most common exceptions used are a woman’s promiscuity or disobedience. “If one of those circumstances occurs, which is very easy because it’s the abuser controlling that, then [he thinks that] what he’s doing is justified and very frequently the abuser will act like it’s self defense,” Goldstein said.
According to Goldstein, it’s unlikely that Hardy is the real victim in the situation due to the historical, cultural, and statistical context of domestic violence.
“Up until very recently, society allowed and encouraged husbands to assault and abuse and control and discipline their wives. There’s no equivalent encouragement for wives,” Goldstein said. “In almost all domestic violence homicides, whether a woman dies or a man dies, there is a long history of the man’s abuse of the woman, even when the woman is the one killing the man.”
It is unknown how much Maister’s victim-blaming defense factored in to the NFL’s decision to reinstate Hardy and initially give him a 10-game suspension, but the fact that they allowed that defense to be presented, unchallenged and uninterrupted, feeds into a false, damaging narrative that perpetuates the cycle of victims staying silent and justice for abusers going unserved.
“Deliberate false complaints by women happen less than 2 percent of the time and yet there’s a widespread notion… that it’s far more common,” Goldstein said. “However, false denials are very common.” Despite those facts, many still believe denials over accusations.
Hardy avoided a conviction for his crime — and eventually got his record expunged — primarily because of a settlement with Holder. He then was reinstated to the league and only missed four weeks of pay in total due in part to a defense that defied logic and attacked the character of his victim. He was punished very little, and showed even less remorse. Then, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones hired Hardy, praised him as a “leader,” and touted this as a chance for redemption for Hardy.
“We have given Greg a second chance,” Jones said once again this week after the photos became public. “He is a member of our team and someone who is grateful for the opportunity he has been given to move forward with his life and his career.”
It’s unclear whether the “Domestic Violence 101” programs that the NFL has mandated discuss the frequency of repeat offenders in domestic violence cases, but this is a well-known subject among domestic abuse experts. Most perpetrators of domestic violence are not one-time abusers. In fact, Deadspin reported that Holder told police that Hardy had abused her before, but she didn’t report it because “[h]e terrifies me” and “I know…that he would have me killed.”
“In the context of domestic violence, the term ‘first-time offenders’ is really misused,” Goldstein, whose research found that only accountability and monitoring can change an abuser’s behavior, said. “Domestic violence is the most underreported crime, so by the time police and law enforcement hear about a man’s domestic violence crime, he’s probably committed domestic violence before.”
Therefore, when victims do finally get the courage to report the crimes and the criminal justice system (or, in this case, employer) goes easy on the abuser because it appears to be a first-time offense or isolated incident, it reinforces to the victim that reporting the abuse isn’t worth it. “[The victim] stays and accepts this abuse, and doesn’t report it again, and the criminal justice system thinks it’s doing a good job because he’s not arrested again,” Goldstein said.
That’s why giving a man like Hardy a second chance — especially when he has not been properly punished for his first offense or shown any obvious growth from it — could put others in harm’s way.