As you can probably gather from my body of work on this site, I love sports. Like most sports fans, I’m a die-hard supporter of a few teams. The Minnesota Twins (My offspring had his first school picture taken in a Mauer jersey), Virginia Tech football (#GameDay4Frank) and of course, America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys. Each football Sunday, my happiness lives and dies with those guys. I’ve been there from the tail-end of the Aikman years, through the Quincy Carter/every other scrub-era, to current days of Romo and his injury backups. Last night I was nervously sitting on the edge of my couch devouring my fingernails as the Boys took on the Eagles.
Speaking from personal experience, it’s easy to look past a player’s flaws if they’re helping your team win. Cowboy legend Michael Irvin had his share of run-ins with the law and is still beloved by fans, myself included. Each year, the NFL is filled with guys who’ve been arrested or been caught using PEDs. I don’t really need to beat a dead horse because everyone knows the league has struggled with that reputation. Obviously, pro athletes are real people with real issues, issues that are magnified by their position in society. Honestly, I couldn’t care less about the majority of pro athlete infractions that get reported on by ESPN. That’s their lives, hopefully they’ll go through the justice system like you or I and serve their punishment and move on like any other citizen.
However, on the heels of Deadspin’s incredibly damning report on Greg Hardy’s domestic violence incident, it makes one wonder if sometimes you’re truly rooting for the wrong people and wondering where it ends.
Not for a lack of wishing and pleading, one doesn’t ever get to choose who does or doesn’t suit up for their favorite team. This past off-season, I admittedly was thrilled that the Cowboys signed Greg Hardy. I was obviously aware of why he was available and why he had sat out the majority of the previous NFL season, but at that point I didn’t give a shit. The Cowboys were a questionable call away from a conference title game last year, and Hardy is a freak-of-nature pass rusher that they desperately needed. We’re the same organization that gave Pacman Jones and Tank Johnson second chances, plus drafted Dez Bryant; most of those choices worked out, Greg Hardy is no big deal.
If you’ve been living on another planet for the last couple months, give Greg Hardy and his antics a quick Google. Then go read that link to the Deadspin piece. Greg Hardy is a piece of shit. He’s a big piece of shit. Everyone makes mistakes. Greg Hardy makes terrible mistakes, then showboatingly doubles down on his mistakes and ups the asshole ante on a daily basis. Normally, the one great thing that comes out of making a mistake is that you learn a valuable lesson, but that’s clearly not the case with this guy. He’s only been active for three games this year but he’s already managed to shove a coach, get into numerous sideline arguments, and make a mockery of his post-game interviews. Even if he wasn’t an alleged violent woman-beater away from team facilities he’s definitely at the very least a giant unstable douchebag in them.
While his antics can be debated by some, especially Cowboys management, what can’t be debated is his impact on the field. Hardy is a beast; the monster pass rusher the team has been craving since DeMarcus Ware’s injury decline and eventual release. If it was strictly based on on-field performance, Greg Hardy would be worth every penny of his contract and worth every fan’s worship. It’s that ability that earned his second chance via Jerry Jones and the Boys, and it’s that ability that seems to keep motivating people to make apologies for him no matter what happens. What’s most unsettling is that the front office has gone as far as to label him a “leader.” It’s well within their right to sign a player who is legally cleared to play as a lotto ticket to lead them to a Super Bowl. Many other teams have made a deal with a devil in this pursuit. But don’t try to make him something he’s not. Don’t attempt to get people to confuse him with a high intensity, emotional player like Dez Bryant. Being a leader is not attacking your coaches, it’s not letting your instability potentially harm the team.
I was admittedly as thrilled as anyone after the signing as I am desperate to see the Cowboys get to the Super Bowl. But months later, it’s clear what this signing is, and no matter how many statements the front office makes, it shouldn’t be disputed. The Greg Hardy signing was simply a rogue gun for hire; not a leader, but someone whose talent you hopes brings you to the Promised Land before he makes your team’s locker room and reputation go up in flames.
I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves a second chance in life; rich and famous athletes included. I rooted for Mike Vick again the day he got out of the slammer. I’ll still root for guys popped for PEDs (I loved seeing A-Rod have a good year, sue me). But where does the line get drawn?When does a player become unredeemable and unworthy of opportunities in both playing time and fan appreciation? You often hear something along the lines of loving a player if he’s on your team, but you hate him when he’s playing elsewhere. A.J. Pierzynski is a prime example. I loved him for the Twins, hated him everywhere else. Greg Hardy doesn’t fall under this. He may have earned a second chance by virtue of the law, but he’s burned any chance of being thought of as a respectable representation of what an NFL player should be.
Current blacklisted ex-RB Ray Rice made a horrible mistake that was caught on video, and may never see the field again. He’s paying the price of being shunned by both team management and fans alike. By all accounts, Rice has conducted himself since his unofficial banishment with maturity and remorse. Hardy has not, not even close. Thanks to Deadspin, we now know as much about the horrific offenses related to his domestic violence incident, and we’ve been able to see and hear for ourselves his immature and outlandish conduct while employed by the Cowboys. But, as long as immeasurable on-field talent continues to be rewarded with more chances from the front office and blind acceptance by fans, myself included, athletes like Hardy, from high school on up to the pros, will continue to be a black mark on sports.
Last night, Greg Hardy was inches away from sacking Sam Bradford and putting an end to the game-winning play before it started. Maybe that was fitting; maybe it was karma and what the Cowboys deserved. We as fans have continued on with a win at all costs mentality and have supported deplorable behavior as long as it comes with a W, and maybe that’s the problem. Growing up I think many of us played with at least one guy who thought himself above the team and made poor life choice, but who’s talent granted them chances that others wouldn’t get. We are seeing that example at its worst right now in the form of Greg Hardy. Until we all make the decision that winning a championship isn’t as important as not defending or tolerating degenerate behavior, it’s something that will plague every level of sports. I love watching talented guys take the field with the star on their helmet, but I won’t be saddened at all to (hopefully) see Greg Hardy go this offseason. .
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