“The Player vs. The Person” – The Greg Hardy Dilemma

Most of us who have been life long avid sports fans eventually face what has […]

Howie Espenshied / 11.13.15


Most of us who have been life long avid sports fans eventually face what has always been true. We know the players, we don’t know the people. However, thanks to social media saturation and the endless “behind the scenes” stories about our favorite athletes that are available for our consumption, we tend to think we know the person – certainly more than we used to.

Even in 1976 though, at age 13, I certainly felt like I knew enough about “the person” to crown Bruce Jenner as my favorite athlete and plaster his posters all over my bedroom wall. Not only was he universally regarded as the “world’s greatest athlete” when he won Olympic Decathlon Gold that year, he also came across particularly humble, gracious, and well-spoken – certainly more so than his contemporaries. Jenner is a polarizing figure now, but he definitely wasn’t in 1976.

He wasn’t just my favorite “athlete”. He was my hero, someone I would have regarded as a favorite person, even though I knew nothing of his inner struggles. In reality, I didn’t really know the person at all. That didn’t matter though. I felt like I had enough information to make a an informed judgement. I’d have said he was the person on the planet that I most wanted to be like.

HardyDallas Cowboy fans had been evenly split in recent weeks on either side of the player vs. person debate with regard to Greg Hardy. Hardy the player was among the most dominant defensive linemen in the NFL in 2013 for the Carolina Panthers. That season, he was regarded as the best in the NFL at getting to the quarterback. Then, in the spring of 2014, Hardy was charged with domestic abuse (and not of the “garden variety”). He allegedly threw his girlfriend down onto a futon bed covered with automatic pistols and rifles, strangled her, and threatened to kill her. A judge initially found Hardy guilty, but he was eventually acquitted when the woman didn’t show up to testify at the jury trial.

Though nothing has been proven, all indications are that she was compensated handsomely to not testify. The Carolina Panthers rendered their verdict however, paying Hardy the remainder of his contract, but declaring that he would never play again for them. So in 2014, Hardy was paid to not play. In addition, the NFL slapped Hardy with a 10 game suspension that would be served when he signed with his next team. When the suspension was then reduced (on appeal) to 4 games, the Cowboys signed him for this season.

Cowboy’s owner/GM Jerry Jones needed help on his defense, and defended his decision by saying that “Hardy has served his suspension and hasn’t been convicted of anything.” When Hardy was activated for week 5, the Cowboys were not playing well. The timing was good for the Cowboys. They needed him. In his first game back, he sacked Tom Brady twice, but the Cowboys lost. Many Cowboy fans were encouraged though. They felt like they had a guy that could help them.

It’s five weeks later now though, and the Cowboys still haven’t won with Greg Hardy. Greg Hardy though, for his part, has played pretty well. Needless to say though, public opinion has swayed heavily against Jerry Jones’ decision to add Greg Hardy.

In 2015, a man guilty of abusing a woman and being a bully isn’t going to get a pass in the court of public opinion, even if he has served his time. It doesn’t help Hardy that he doesn’t appear to being showing much remorse. However, what if the Cowboys were undefeated since they added Hardy? Would most Cowboy fans care much about what the rest of the world thought? Would I if I were Cowboy fan? I’d like to think I would. After all, I’m anti-bullying and domestic abuse as much as anyone. He’s helping my team win though? Right now, I’m just glad I don’t have to answer the question (at least out loud). It certainly was a lot easier to know how to think about things when Bruce Jenner was gracing my walls and my Wheatie’s box.