Greg Hardy's a Story Line, But He Shouldn’t Be Sunday's Biggest Story

The NFL's current crisis will be a hot topic during Sunday night's nationally broadcast Panthers game. But after kickoff, most of the focus should center on players not named Greg Hardy

Two days before the Panthers' Sunday night matchup with the Steelers, Bank of America Stadium has morphed into an NBC compound. The network uses six large satellite trucks to beam the prime-time broadcast out to the world, three more than a typical Sunday afternoon game on either FOX or CBS.

Just imagine if the Greg Hardy situation hadn't been temporarily decided on Wednesday. Think about how the defensive end's domestic violence case would have enveloped anything else. Picture host Bob Costas, who occasionally turns his platform into a pulpit, piling on the Panthers during a halftime screed. 

Hardy's leave of absence (aka: the NFL put the defensive end on a special exempt list) and the league's current crisis will continue to be a major talking point throughout the weekend. But the cloud of controversy won't be as dark as it would have been if the Panthers had tried to go into Sunday with Hardy's status still up in the air. If anything good is coming out of any of this, it does appear people have finally noticed an all-too-common problem.

"The nice thing about it, and this is the only silver lining, is that domestic violence has been brought to the forefront. It's out there, and we have to do something about it," Panthers head coach Ron Rivera said Friday.  "I'm also glad some people recognize this is not just an NFL problem; it's a societal problem that has to be taken care of."

While the NFL is drawing most of the ire, we’ve all ignored the issue too long.

The national media barely noticed the ugly accusations against Hardy until TMZ unveiled a videotape of former Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his fiancé. Since then, testimony from Hardy's July bench trial has been filtered to an angry mob via more-digestible bits.

There’s more context to it than that, of course. While a North Carolina judge found Hardy guilty, he immediately appealed and received his right to a jury trial. And most people who sat in the 10-hour bench trial admit many credibility questions remain about both Hardy and his accuser.

But the Panthers have been getting crushed for their inactions. They declared in late July that they would allow Hardy to finish the legal process before they handed down potential discipline. At the time, that seemed reasonable. Then TMZ released a tape of another couple.

The Panthers should have punished Hardy sooner, not as a judgment in his case, but because he was at least guilty of bringing negative attention on his employer. Instead, they did nothing, and they now seem reactionary.

It's much easier to criticize decisions we don't have to make, especially when we're looking at them with the benefit of hindsight.

"In all honesty, we’re worried about the wrong types of things. We’re trying to figure out who we need to blame," Rivera said Wednesday. "We don’t need to blame people, we need to find answers and corrections and make things right for people.

"I really just hope people understand we’re doing the best we can under the circumstances that we have, and we’re trying to get this right. And at the end of the day, we have to come up with solutions to make that this does not happen again."

To many, the NFL is guilty of ignoring problems like domestic violence for years. That may be true. But Hardy's case is different from Rice's or any others. Grouping them together is convenient and unfair.

Hardy may be guilty of the horrible things his accuser said he did on that night in May. Or he may not be. No one knows except a handful of people directly involved.

Ultimately, he'll have his day in court. And while the Panthers continue their trial under click-hungry media, much-needed attention has been given to a major societal issue. But hopefully we can put down our stones for just three hours Sunday night.

NBC has a half-a-dozen trucks in Charlotte this weekend. Some of the chatter emanating from those signals will rightfully center on the league's current crisis. But after kickoff, the main focus should be Panthers not named Greg Hardy, the ones who have given the team its best start since 2008.

Categories: Black and Blue Review 2, Panthers