Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and his meeting with his former team, the Carolina Panthers, is not exactly a heartwarming story to tell when folks crowd around the fireplace roasting marshmallows on Thanksgiving.
Hardy remains a villain in the eyes of many for a domestic violence incident involving an ex-girlfriend in May 2014 when he was with the Panthers. Charges were eventually dropped because the plaintiff refused to cooperate with prosecutors at a jury trial after reportedly reaching a financial settlement with Hardy.
Hardy refused to show remorse or accept responsibility in the incident, which landed him on the NFL commissioner’s exempt list for 15 games last season and brought a four-game suspension this year for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Hardy’s comments on Twitter in addition to recently released photos of ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder taken after the incident has only worsened the public perception.
The weight of it all has taken its toll on the 6-foot-5, 280-pounder, who is more sensitive and introspective than the image portrayed in court testimony and sideline blowups.
Hardy declined to talk this week leading up to Thursday’s game against the undefeated Panthers (10-0), though pausing long enough to say that he will not participate or attend the Thanksgiving night Welcome to Dallas postgame party, to which he had been linked for the past few weeks.
It’s further evidence that if Hardy didn’t get it before, he gets it now.
“He understands he is overly scrutinized,” said veteran defensive end Jeremy Mincey, who serves as mentor to Hardy. “I tell him don’t give them an opportunity to scrutinize you. It’s sinking in. He is focused. And he is trying to be better and do better.”
There are no second chances regarding the issue of domestic violence. There’s none. What you want to see is him do things that don’t create more emphasis on that.
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones on Greg Hardy
That he is seemingly trying. That he cares. That he does go out of his way to seek help are reasons the Cowboys have been patient with him, even when he’s been tardy to meetings or missed some all together.
That and because he is an elite pass rusher and one of the best players on their defense. He has a team-leading 4.5 sacks for a 3-7 team fighting to save its season. Still, the notion that Hardy is unrepentant and doesn’t care is wrong in the eyes of Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.
“That’s just not right,” Jones said. “I don’t think that at all. He understands. What they don’t understand is he understands. He’s had to learn that. He’s had to actually learn that he can’t run a stop sign because he’s going to be overly judged relative to the court of public opinion.”
Jones said that no NFL player has been under “more pressure” than Hardy over the past month. Jones blamed Hardy’s tardiness or absence at meetings on being at “counseling session” or sitting by himself “thinking things over.”
Nobody is feeling sorry for Hardy or the Cowboys, who have had nothing but bad luck since they signed him. After a 12-4 record last year, the Cowboys this season have gone from Super Bowl contender to outcasts, thanks to a siege of injuries, including the loss of quarterback Tony Romo that contributed to a recent seven-game losing streak.
Sponsors and advertisers have voiced concerns, according to a source. Having Hardy on the team is one thing; losing takes it to another level.
“Go back over the years and look at the weeks you’re involved when you’re not winning games and see if you get more criticism,” Jones said. “You do.
Greg is a great teammate, contrary to popular belief. Greg is a person that came in and worked hard, gave everybody everything that he had and a person that you love to watch on Sundays.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton
“You don’t have a lot of the intensity, in my mind, if you’re sitting here having the year we had last year. I have to weigh all of this in terms of what we do and how we do.”
That’s why Jones takes it all with a grain of salt. He gets why people don’t like Hardy’s presence on the Cowboys or even in the NFL. But he remains committed because it’s what’s best for Hardy and the team right now.
“I have understood the criticism and the basis of the criticism is, in essence, he has not owned the right to play in the NFL, that it sends the wrong message,” Jones said. “There is a genuine effort here for him to get a second chance. There is a genuine effort for him to rehab his perception.
“There are no second chances regarding the issue of domestic violence. There’s none. What you want to see is him do things that don’t create more emphasis on that.”
Hardy is trying to stay out of the limelight and the Cowboys are trying to do a better job supporting him on and off the field. Jones acknowledges that he and the team have made some missteps from a public relations standpoint.
“What could I have been doing to help him?” Jones said he has asked of himself. “Should there have been more counseling or those kinds of things?”
One place where there have not been any problems with Hardy is in the locker room and on the practice field.
“As far as Greg, he’s done a really good job in our locker room of presenting himself as a good teammate,” Romo said. “I think a lot of times the people who are in the locker room, we get to see people on a daily basis and what you find sometimes is you can create relationships getting to know someone day in and day out and how they compete and how they play.”
“He comes in with a good attitude and a good work ethic here in the building, so the teammates obviously root for him.”
Hardy had well-chronicled issues of tardiness during his four years in Carolina, but he was liked by his teammates.
That love of the game is going to take him where he needs to go. It’s the lifeblood for him. We are holding him strong and going keep him accountable.
Cowboys defensive end Jeremy Mincey
“Greg is a great teammate, contrary to popular belief,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “Greg is a person that came in and worked hard, gave everybody everything that he had and a person that you love to watch on Sundays. Anytime you’ve got a person like that, it’s always great to watch. I’m wishing him the best.”
Veteran Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is a child of domestic violence, which is also the basis of his charitable foundation. He too accepts Hardy.
“As players, this is your locker room and you have to embrace teammates and then go off of what you see,” Witten said. “This guy works hard. He keeps his mouth shut. He is a very talented player. He has been the first to say move forward.
“That doesn’t change my viewpoints on domestic violence and my support and trying to put a stop against it. At the same time, you welcome that teammate and you want to embrace it. I think he has been good.”
The Cowboys have learned that Hardy has a soft, artistic side. Hardy likes music, likes to dance, but is goofy. Jones compared him to former Cowboys tight end Martellus Bennett in his quirkiness.
Mincey believes football is going to ultimately save Hardy’s life and his career.
“That love of the game is going to take him where he needs to go,” Mincey said. “It’s the lifeblood for him. We are holding him strong and going to keep him accountable.”
Panthers at Cowboys
3:30 p.m. Thursday, KTVT/11