The NFL does not have a stellar track record when it comes to domestic violence. Part of the problem has been the NFL's haphazard, arbitrary approach to punishing players involved in such incidents. A big part of the problem, however, is the media.
An example of the problem? ESPN's Adam Schefter recently interviewed free agent and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy. Hardy was convicted of domestic violence by a judge after he allegedly threw his ex-girlfriend against a bathtub wall and shoved her down onto a futon, which happened to be strewn with assault rifles. There were pictures of his ex-girlfriend covered in bruises and she indicated at the time that she feared for her life. Later, Hardy's record was expunged after his ex-girlfriend refused to participate in a jury trial after reaching a civil settlement with Hardy. To be clear, just because the incident never happened in they eyes of North Carolina due to a legal technicality does not mean that it didn't happen at all.
Why is Greg Hardy given a platform to spew abuser-rhetoric? And, more importantly, why didn't Adam Schefter challenge him on his absurd, nonsensical comments?
One of his most offensive comments from the interview, via Sports Illustrated, "Pictures are pictures and they can be made to look like whatever," insinuates that his victim was a liar and that law enforcement fabricated evidence by photoshopping bruises onto her. That statement deserved at the very least a "Whoa, wait!, what???" from the interviewer.
For every Greg Hardy, there is an indignant fan sitting somewhere muttering to himself, "Right on! His conviction was overturned! These women need to quit fabricating claims and leave us men alone!" Greg Hardy not only generates revenue for ESPN, he provides a voice for misogynists and domestic violence apologists who always seem to have an excuse or fabricated statistic ready to prove that domestic violence isn't a real problem or that women are somehow money-grubbing, attention-seeking perpetrators of slander against upstanding, virtuous men.
Domestic violence is a national scourge. The only difference between Greg Hardy and the abuser next door is that Hardy was given a chance to blame-shift on national television and have it normalized by Schefter, who sat there largely mute, refusing to question or challenge even Hardy's most inane statements about the incident.
The bottom line is that domestic violence and other scandals related to personal conduct are good for business. The ESPN interview, while disgusting, was watched by scores of people and has been the subject of numerous articles (including this one). There was no reason for Hardy, a mediocre player who is a huge liability on the sidelines and in the locker room, should have been given the opportunity to sit for an interview with Adam Schefter.
Headlines from the interview focused on his comments about his innocence. NFL.com and USA Today both picked up the "I'm an innocent man" assertion, while ESPN chose to repeat his claim that he never "put his hand on any women," in their headline. Hardy does not deserve free advertising for his character. Though most articles were balanced, "I'm an innocent man" in large print sends the wrong message to readers. Even if Hardy's conviction was overturned, the indisputable details of the incident, along with other aggressive, hateful, misogynistic behavior on other occasions should remain the focus of coverage, not his fantastical claims of a police conspiracy against him in the form of photo-shopped bruises.
The NFL domestic violence problem is due to far more than inconsistent consequences for alleged offenders. Players who engage in domestic violence are responsible for their actions. Even if the NFL fails in their attempts to discipline players, the media and the fans are to blame for much of the fall out.