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PressBox: Greg Hardy Is Ruining The NFL’s Already Tattered Image

Pressbox is a column here on The Sideline. It serves as a medium for writers to rant about some of the hottest takes in the sports world. Read all Pressbox rants here.

There’s been some controversy lately as to whether certain teams and players are good for their sports. Are the UConn Huskies–current record of 121-1, making their ninth straight Final Four appearance–bad for women’s college basketball? (The answer is no, contrary to the beliefs of Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy, and on par with the beliefs of Sideline Sports writer Noah Ziegler). Is Steph Curry–currently averaging 30.1 points per game, leading the most fascinating, and the best, team in basketball to a record of 69-8–bad for the NBA? (The answer is also no.)

In a recent podcast, a producer from Garbage Time with Katie Nolan argued that the one “silver lining” to come from the Dan Shaughnessy debacle was that “everyone jumped on the UConn bandwagon” and everyone was “refreshed on their incredible run” because of it.

We’ve agreed that UConn is good for women’s basketball. And while we’re hopping on one bandwagon, let’s take the chance to hop off another–if you haven’t already. It’s time to say it:

Greg Hardy is bad for football.

The free agent who spent last season as a defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys was back in the news this week, and not in any sort of good way.

If you don’t know the storyline of this saga already, Greg Hardy began his career as a Carolina Panther. In 2014, Hardy was arrested for assault and threatening his ex-girlfriend. Although the prosecutor in the case eventually dropped the charges, Hardy was placed on the NFL’s exempt list in the late summer of 2014, and he never played another game for the Panthers.

Here’s where things got messy: in the span of four months in 2015, Hardy signed a one-year, $11.3 million contract with the Dallas Cowboys (March), received a 10-game suspension for his “violations of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy” (April), and then got that suspension moved from ten games to just four (July), meaning he could suit up for at maximum, 12 games for the Cowboys in the 2015 season.

Hardy went on to play in all 12 games, and finished with 35 tackles on the season.

There’s more to this story–his locker room interviews, his shoving fights with coaches on the sidelines, and the incident in which Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came to Hardy’s defense and called him a “true leader” all made more headlines than did any of Hardy’s on-field actions.

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For the most part, many in the sports world believed that Hardy should not have played in the NFL last season. Still, there were people who argued for his case: Lawrence Taylor, Jerry Jones (as mentioned), Stephen A. Smith (before he reversed his position) were some, not including countless people on social media who defended Hardy because of his talent as a tough guy on the football field.

When Hardy became a free agent after the 2015 season ended (after the Cowboys’ worst finish since 1989 at 4-12), many (myself included) thought that his time in the spotlight was done. But on Monday, ESPN announced that Adam Schefter’s exclusive interview with Greg Hardy would air this week on NFL Live. The full interview, which Hardy agreed to in the hopes that it would help his job prospects for next season, was scheduled to premiere on Tuesday, but ESPN Media Zone released an early excerpt:

Hardy: “I’ve never put my hand on ANY women … In my whole entire life, No Sir. That’s just not how we’re raised. As you can tell, like I said again, it’s the Bible belt. It’s just something that’s, I wouldn’t even say frowned upon, just something that’s nonexistent in most southern homes.”

Schefter: “You say you did nothing wrong, you’re innocent and yet the pictures of her that surfaced would seem to suggest a woman who had some type of physical contact. How do you explain that?”

Hardy: “I will stop you there and say that I didn’t say that I didn’t do anything wrong. That situation occurred and that situation was handled but … saying that I did nothing wrong is a stretch but saying I am innocent is correct. Yes sir.”

Schefter: “Did you ever put your hands on her?”

Hardy: “No Sir … No Sir.”

The NFL on ESPN Twitter account later tweeted a video clip from the interview–and quite honestly, it’s even harder to watch Hardy proclaim his innocence with a straight face.

As expected, the social media world exploded. “Greg Hardy” was back in the top five Twitter trends for most of the day, and even Hardy’s former teammate, Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith, tweeted this, criticizing Hardy’s claims of innocence:

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As also expected, Greg Hardy himself kept an active presence on social media. He retweeted a tweet that called him one of the “top three defensive ends in the league”, and liked tweets that told him that “haters [were] always gonna hate” and told him to “#BrushYourShouldersOff”.

Whether or not this new interview will change Hardy’s appeal as a football player is, unfortunately, unknown. While many teams, from the Raiders to the Jets, have tried to make it clear that they are not interested in signing Hardy, Bleacher Report insider Jason Cole said in March that teams interested in the defensive end would likely stay quiet about their decisions out of fear of bad publicity.

Hardy was a black sheep on the Cowboys, and he cast a dark shadow over the entire NFL that still hasn’t completely disappeared. I can’t answer exactly how this shadow fades, but it’s a step in the right direction if June comes and no teams have shown interest in signing him. While that plays out, it’s up to the league to take the right amount of action in distancing itself from affiliation with Hardy, but also making that separation known.

There is one thing for certain: Hardy has not changed, and if he stays on the same path, it’s not likely he will change. It’s what happens next that matters the most.

Greg Hardy is a ticking time bomb. He’s been ticking since 2014, when this whole situation started, and if we don’t realize that soon, he’s going to detonate. And the damage done to football and the NFL’s image, if he’s given even more time to go off, will be severe.

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