The NFL’s Punishment Problem or What to Do with Greg Hardy

This week, the NFL was handed another reprimand for its handling of a player conduct issue.  Adrian Peterson’s case is just another example of the NFL’s inconsistent and haphazard rulings that do more to create tension with its players than it does to develop a consistent and firm message on how to address players’ off the field actions.  I believe that Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson would have been fired from most other jobs if they didn’t work in the NFL, without any recourse.  Although accusations are not proof that something happened, most employers would not have waited to move on allegations like these.  Particularly an employer with the resources of the NFL that can perform its own investigations.  Look at how the Louisville Cardinals handled the Chris Jones situation as a comparison.

AP Photo

AP Photo

But for Rice and Peterson you don’t even have to look that far.  Both eventually admitted to committing some sort of violent act.  In today’s environment those actions cannot go unpunished or shoved under the rug, as these might have in the past.  It’s a tug of war right now between the NFL and the NFLPA.   The NFLPA touts their support of the players from the perspective of neutral arbitration—the employer (NFL) is biased so we need an independent party to determine what punishment should be doled out and those punishments have to be based on written words we have agreed to.  Turns out, there weren’t that many until recently.  The NFL wants absolute autonomy, which it will never have, and the ability to be flexible and fit the punishment with the crime that it has determined happened.

In either situation, the problem remains what rules will the decision-maker apply.  Without any clear and defined rules one has a tendency to start comparing and contrasting the violent acts in an attempt to understand which is worse.  In the courtroom, most of these issues are already more clearly defined, as judges can look at similar cases and hand out similar punishments.  The NFL isn’t there yet for the issues it is facing.  Even with a set of rules there have been few, if any, applications.  These rules will continue to be molded with boundaries defined as we move forward.

AP Photo

AP Photo

In Peterson’s case, the NFL decided to punish him under the new rules.  According to Judge Doty, the NFL had no right to do that.  Whether or not you think Peterson should be banished from the NFL for his actions against his 4 year old son, those aren’t the rules in the NFL.  Just like John Adams represented the British solider in the Boston Massacre, the NFLPA is standing up for the rights of the NFL players to be punished under the rules of their agreement with the NFL, not what the NFL wants the agreement to be.

Which brings us to Greg Hardy.  Peterson will certainly continue to get investigative attention as the NFL appeals Judge Doty’s ruling.  But with the charges dropped against Greg Hardy earlier this month, the NFL finds itself in basically the same position with Hardy as it does with Peterson.  No matter what Hardy did or did not do, one thing is certain—the NFLPA will appeal any ruling that tries to punish Hardy under the new rules because his actions occurred before those were implemented.  As they await the NFL ruling, Hardy and Peterson both sit in this limbo called Exempt/Commissioner’s Permission List. Both will continue to get paid but both cannot participate in any team activities.  I suspect the NFL will wait to rule on Hardy’s case until after the Peterson appeal.  The appeal in Peterson’s case will directly impact what punishment they will eventually hand down to Hardy.

AP Photo

AP Photo

What do you do if you are the Carolina Panthers?  If the past is any indication, the Panthers will not re-sign Hardy.  He didn’t play for the Panthers most of last season.  The Vikings are going through a similar issue with Peterson now.  It’s doubtful he would ever return there.  This is the trickledown effect caused by the NFL and NFLPA fighting.  It’s now left to the individual teams to decide whether or not to keep these players on their rosters.  So, how do the owners of the other teams respond?  Do they make the same judgment call and effectively black-ball these players out of the NFL by refusing to sign Rice, Peterson or Hardy?  There is a lot more outside pressure on the NFL teams than there used to be.  These issues are now in the general public’s conscious.  Any team that signs any one of those players has to be prepared and assume they are going to get hammered by the public and the media.  I think athletes get treated even worse by the public than others because these are people being paid to play a sport, which is perceived as a cushy, fun job.  Who doesn’t think they would switch places with Aaron Rodgers and make tons of money playing football?

The allegations in Hardy’s case are substantial.  Add those to the fact that his girlfriend refused to cooperate after being paid off and you have an extremely negative perception.  His public statements don’t give the impression he particularly cares what you think of him or that he cares in general about the situation he is in.  Let’s not forget that he used his first public statement to promote him and his brand, which I will not name.  But he should care what other owners think of him because they are the ones who he has to convince to give him a job.  I will applaud the Panthers if they do not re-sign him.  I will not applaud if another team signs Hardy.

By Jason Johnson

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