Greg Hardy’s various outbursts on Sunday have drawn a lot of attention. He got into a screaming match with his teammate, Dez Bryant, on the sideline, late in the fourth quarter of the Cowboys’ loss to the Giants. And he also had an angry exchange with his special teams coach, Rich Bisaccia, which saw Hardy knock the clipboard out of Bisaccia’s hand and Bisaccia respond by shoving Hardy.
Hardy is almost certainly the most frequently criticized player in the NFL. He was suspended by the NFL for the first four games of the 2015 season, stemming from a conviction in North Carolina in 2014 (later overturned) for domestic violence. In his first public appearance after the suspension was over, he seemed to go out of his way not to show any sense of remorse or repentance for what he’d done, or why others might be troubled by his actions.
After the game, Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones tried to stand up for his player, calling him a “leader” who’s earned the respect of his teammates.
Much outrage has ensued, but I appreciated the perspective of both Mikes this morning on the matter. Declining the opportunity to go into easy moralizing mode, they both acknowledged the obvious: Greg Hardy is a great football player at a premium position and, therefore, is going to paid well, prior bad acts notwithstanding. Both Mikes were prepared to set aside Hardy’s confrontation with his coach. Tempers flare on the sidelines and if such an incident involved a player not named Hardy, there would be much less scrutiny of it. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to see someone’s behavior through the prism of their prior record – legal or otherwise. It happens all the time (how often do we hear media folks invoke “body of work” to go easy on someone they like but who has engaged in some bad behavior?) But the Mikes’ instinct – that while Hardy may well be a loathsome guy, we needn’t lose our sense of proportion of what the enterprise of football is all about. And a lot of what it’s about is really big, strong guys unleashing fury at those around them. There’s no part of this that justifies or rationalizes a player’s conduct *off* the field. But an altercation with a coach who’s perfectly capable of defending himself is not, in and of itself a great crime.
Greenie was, however, dumbfounded by Jones’ insistence that Hardy is a leader. As Greenie said, nothing Hardy’s done since he signed with Dallas would suggest he is. Jones has made bizarre statements about Hardy before. When Hardy, at his infamous first media appearance, offered an unprompted comment about how attractive Tom Brady’s wife is, many were upset at his apparent cluelessness, given the reason for his conviction last year and his refusal to acknowledge, during that same give and take, any sense of remorse about what he did last year. When his owner was asked about Hardy’s statement which was, at a minimum, out of place, Jones responded: “When I saw him marry [Gisele Bundchen], Tom went up in my eyes 100 percent…She’s very very attractive and it shows what an outstanding individual Tom is.”
All of this led Golic to conclude that just because someone is a great football player, it doesn’t follow that they’re a moral example of any kind. Needless to say, the same truth applies to owners (Golic described Jones as “foolish” for his comments Sunday about Hardy). Though we expect players to be “role models,” with swift condemnation at the ready when they act contrary to those expectations, we have more deeply ingrained ideas about the character of the very wealthy. We confer upon them gravitas and impute to them general life qualities that are frequently unwarranted. Mark Cuban’s skill in making money in one arena, to take one example, doesn’t automatically make him a sage in other realms of life. The same is obviously true for Jones.
I know this all seems perfectly obvious and banal, but our worship of wealth and wealth-holders (as I’ve noted before, this is very far from a recent phenomenon) produces precisely the duality of sycophancy of our social “betters” and contempt for those “beneath” us that so distorts and warps our sense of right and wrong. Despite its frequent populist noises, this frame is endemic to mainstream sports discourse.
In that light, the clarity and sobriety with which Greenie and Golic spoke about Hardy and Jones this morning was refreshing.