It has been a big month for Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy. First, he was reinstated after serving a four-game suspension for throwing his girlfriend down onto a gun-riddled sofa and strangling her. Oh, and he also threatened to kill her, just in case putting his hands around her neck wasn’t a clear enough sign that he did not value her life.
What does Hardy do his first week back in the league ahead of his first post-suspension game against the New England Patriots? He shows his special brand of respect for women (and by "special," I actually mean dangerously misogynistic and misogynistically dangerous), saying "I love seeing Tom Brady. You seen his wife? I hope she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game." Classy!
Next up, Hardy expresses his feelings to the special teams coach. This expression of feelings took the form of a violent sideline tirade complete with angry words and aggressive physicality with the coach.
How does Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones react to this behavior? He calls it leadership. After all, Hardy is an inspiration! Jones said, "That’s the kind of thing that inspires a football team."
Clearly, Hardy is not a leader. Unless the goal is to lead players to a lifestyle of debauchery, disrespect and violence. Jones’ comments were dismissed as the latest example of the septuagenarian's eccentricity and "crazy talk."
Would that Jones’ words were an isolated example of crazy talk! Unfortunately, this type of rhetoric is common at all levels of sport where athletes are venerated and their coaches are near-deities.
At his sentencing for child sexual abuse, a Maryland-area age-group swim coach was called "a man of impeccable character" by a team parent and assistant coach, even though his guilt was not in question. The coach had admitted culpability. Sorry, just as Greg Hardy’s outburst disqualifies him from being a good leader, so child rape disqualifies a coach from being a man of "impeccable character."
Even after evidence surfaced that former Penn State coach Jerry Sandusky was a serial child rapist, Joyce Porter supported him, calling him "a saint, a wonderful guy." She continued, "There are thousands of kids (he’s helped through the Second Mile charity. And he affects people. He’s just wonderful with kids." Again, saints and wonderful guys don’t rape children.
When another Maryland-area coach Rick Curl was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing a former underage swimmer, the court received 72 letters in support of the coach, and many gave statements of effusive praise, defending him.
After evidence surfaced that former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice had abused his then-fiance, the team insinuated that Rice’s fiancee shared responsibility for the incident in a now-deleted tweet, saying, "Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident."
Jones’ comments are not the words of an aging, out-of-touch owner. With great frequency, inexcusable or troubling behavior is overlooked or reframed as desirable, even noble by team stakeholders and members of the community.
Allegiance to teams, hero-worship of players and coaches, and a desire to whitewash is incompatible with developing a culture of respect and, even more fundamental, safety in sports. Hardy is not a good leader. He is a violent man who spews hate and aggression.
By NFL rules, Hardy is allowed to play in the NFL, but professional aren’t inviolable. When they make mistakes, those mistakes need to be named and acknowledged, not whitewash, justify- or worse-- praised. Jones’ reaction to Hardy is not an aberration, it is indicative of a larger problem in the NFL and in all levels of athletics, both amateur and professional.
Coaches and athletes are not gods. Viewing them as such leads to the defense of indefensible behavior. Jerry Jones' comments bout Hardy were being a very public endorsement of dangerous attitudes. Jones is not alone in glorifying inexcusable behavior. Unfortunately, it is all too common a phenomenon.