It shouldn't take pictures to generate outrage about domestic violence. It also shouldn't take the buffoonery of Jerry Jones, and the recent public aggression and bizarre comments of Greg Hardy to generate dialogue about domestic violence.
Just last month, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay attempted to raise awareness of domestic violence by wearing purple shoes. His mother was killed by her partner when Gay was a young child. The NFL did not leverage Gay's passion, personal story, and public gesture to the benefit of the league and society at large. They NFL fined Gay for violating the NFL's uniform guidelines. Now, instead of an inspirational advocate, an alleged perpetrator of domestic violence is at the root of public dialogue.
Since his return to the NFL after a 19-games suspension, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy has been the source of negative publicity for his team, controversy, and now outrage. Those responses reached a fever pitch on Friday as Deadspin released pictures from the aftermath of Hardy's attack on his former girlfriend, Nicole Holder. In the pictures, Holder is shown covered in bruises. As disturbing as the pictures are her statements that she feared for her life, followed by her recognition of the futility of pursuing a case against the man who beat her. "It doesn't matter," she told a detective. "Nothing is going to happen to him anyways."
A year and a half has passed since the attack that landed Holder in the emergency room and resulted in charges, and a conviction, for Hardy. Holder was right, though. In the end, nothing really happened to him. After his conviction by a judge, Hardy requested a trial by jury. By then, Holder had decided not to participate. There are rumors Hardy paid her off. On Friday, Hardy's record was expunged.
With his new team, Hardy has enjoyed the unconditional support of Cowboy's owner Jerry Jones. After all, Hardy has done a lot for the team. Triumphant in his first game back, he recorded two sacks and five hits on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. His on-field performance was a bright spot in his team's otherwise dismal 30-6 loss.
Unfortunately, the Jones' support of Hardy goes well beyond recognition of his on-field contributions. Jones has become Enabler in Chief, justifying, excusing, and minimizing deeply troubling behavior from his new star defender. After a violent sideline outburst during which Hardy angrily confronted his special teams coach, Jones seemed delighted. In his view, Hardy's sideline outburst was a sign he is a "real leader." Hardy is inspirational, according to Jones.
Now, as pictures of the aftermath of Hardy's violent beating of an ex-girlfriend surface, Jones is still standing by the new redeemer of the Dallas Cowboys defense. In fact, Jones admits he knew about the severity of the incident before he signed Hardy. In a statement on Friday, Jones focuses on the second chance he provided Hardy, via Deadspin:
"While we did not have access to the photos that became public today, we were and are aware of the serious nature of this incident. We as an organization take this very seriously. We do not condone domestic violence. We entered into the agreement with Greg fully understanding that there would be scrutiny and criticism. We have given Greg a second chance. He is a member of our team and someone who is grateful for the opportunity he has been given to move forward with his life and his career."
Contrast the Cowboys' response to Hardy with the 49ers handling of the Aldon Smith situation in August of this year. After losing numerous key players to free agency and retirement, the 49ers received news that their star linebacker Aldon Smith was arrested for DUI, hit-and-run, and vandalism. Head coach Jim Tomsula announced Smith's release from the team, but he also expressed compassion and concern for his former player.
At the time, Tomsula said, "Aldon Smith has been working really hard to correct things that need to be corrected, and he has been working hard to do the right thing," Tomsula said. "Unfortunately, his recent behavior was enough to bring about the end of his football career-- for now.If you are struggling, go get help." He also emphasized the organization's support of Smith, saying, "He will not have to walk this road alone."
What is the difference between the 49ers reaction to Smith and the Cowboys reaction to Jones? The 49ers did not allow Smith to continue his football career with their organization, yet they managed to afford Smith dignity and compassion.
Jerry Jones and the Cowboys, on the other hand, seemed to have turned a blind eye to extremely troubling behavior, ignored troubling statements about women, and whitewashed inexcusable aggression directed towards a coach on the sidelines.
It is easy to look to Greg Hardy and experience disgust and outrage. It is also easy to feel contempt for Jerry Jones. It is easy because it doesn't involve action. Just like spectators of a Sunday football game, we can view the situation with a certain level of detachment and a level of engagement we can literally switch on and off.
The fact is, domestic violence is an extremely common crime, but it is also one that generally plays out behind closed doors. Victims are afraid to report, and perpetrators continue abusing with impunity. Bystanders suspect something might be a little 'off,' but stay silent. Or, worse, they make excuses for the inexcusable.
Greg Hardy and Jerry Jones allow us to experience outrage and indignation from a distance. William Gay knows the pain of domestic violence on a much more personal level. And, sadly, so do scores of others.
Twenty to 50 percent of partners experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. Most cases of domestic violence go unreported, and most victims suffer in silence. The missteps of Jerry Jones and horrifying behavior of Greg Hardy is that they are representative of a scourge that pervades society.