The NFL has imposed a major suspension on Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy. And now the former Panthers pass rusher will exercise his right to appeal the decision.
Per a league source, Hardy will immediately appeal the 10-game suspension. The appeal will focus on the retroactive application of the NFL’s new approach to domestic violence to conduct that happened before the NFL toughened its penalties and changed its personal conduct policy.
Prior to the Ray Rice incident, a first-time offender found to be responsible for domestic violence typically received a two-game suspension. That’s the penalty Rice initially received, and he did not appeal it.
But the NFL absorbed significant criticism for the perceived slap on the wrist, prompting an initial change to the penalties in domestic violence cases. Later, after the video of Rice knocking out his then-fiancée emerged, the NFL responded to relentless scrutiny and a widespread backlash by revamping the entire conduct policy.
The first question becomes whether the NFL will appoint an independent arbitrator to handle the appeal. Then, the question becomes whether the appeal will succeed on the question of whether the NFL did indeed apply its new approach to domestic violence retroactively.
Ultimately, Hardy may end up in court, arguing that the NFL is holding him responsible under a standard that didn’t exist when the behavior occurred. Vikings running back Adrian Peterson secured a ruling to that effect earlier this year. (He has since been reinstated, for reasons unrelated to the legal case.)
It’s possible that Hardy, if he files suit, will seek an order allowing him to play while the litigation and any appeals are pending.
From the league’s perspective, the risk of ultimately losing in court likely outweighs the risk of further P.R. problems that could have emerged if Hardy had been suspended only two games. Even if the appeal is successful, the league can claim that it did everything in its power to keep Hardy on the sidelines for another 10 games.
Last season, Hardy missed 15 games with pay while his criminal case was pending. But the league doesn’t regard paid leave as discipline. If the 10-game suspension is upheld, Hardy eventually will have missed 25 games.
Hardy’s criminal case was dismissed in February after alleged victim Nicole Holder didn’t show up for the jury trial. She and Hardy reportedly reached a civil settlement of her claims. But the NFL determined a serious violation of the Personal Conduct Policy occurred, based on its own investigation.