Up Next


Does Greg Hardy deserve a second chance?

Ray Rice, Johnny Manziel and our history of excusing inexcusable behavior far too often

It shouldn’t be surprising that Greg Hardy decisively won his professional mixed martial arts bout against Austen Lane last week, since there was convincing evidence a few years ago that the former NFL player can be quite the violent menace.

I’m not talking about what he did on the football field, where Hardy was once considered one of the league’s elite pass rushers. I’m referring to May 2014, when Charlotte, North Carolina, police responded to a call from Hardy’s then-girlfriend, who reported that Hardy had thrown her onto a couch on top of several semiautomatic weapons, strangled her and threatened to kill her.

Hardy initially was convicted by a North Carolina district judge, but Hardy later appealed the conviction and asked for a jury trial. Hardy reportedly secretly reached a civil settlement with his accuser, who could not be located for trial.

As was the case with Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, apparently the prospect of showcasing Hardy’s violent talents is so irresistible that UFC president Dana White decided to sign Hardy to a contract after he pummeled Lane.

But there is something particularly awful about Hardy’s new alliance with the UFC. Hardy’s history with domestic violence unfortunately makes him a fit in this sport, as this league has a nasty history of attracting alleged abusers. Hardy’s name and background make him a draw because who doesn’t want to see someone accused of hitting a woman get his butt kicked in the most barbaric fashion?

“Of course, you know, I love fighting guys like that,” said mixed martial arts fighter Derrick “The Black Beast” Lewis, referring to Hardy. “I’m more motivated fighting guys like that. I was more motivated to fight Travis Browne whenever I did, so I would like that matchup.”

Browne, who is now married to superstar Ronda Rousey, was investigated for abusing his ex-wife, Jenna Webb. He was suspended but cleared to return after the abuse was investigated by an outside law firm.

Despite White’s previous claim that his league has a no-tolerance policy against domestic violence, it sure seems as if alleged abusers have a tendency to find a home in this sport.

Three years ago, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel conducted a study and found that the number of domestic violence arrests among mixed martial arts fighters is double the average national rate. A few months ago, Nick Diaz was arrested and charged with felony domestic battery by strangulation and misdemeanor domestic battery. Diaz, who was released on bail May 25, is accused of grabbing the alleged victim’s throat and body-slamming her.

More often than not in sports, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to compromise their integrity to rationalize giving those who have been accused or convicted of domestic violence a chance that they really haven’t earned.

Hardy hasn’t shown anything that warrants him being given the benefit of the doubt. When ESPN’s Adam Schefter sat down with Hardy two years ago and confronted him about the photos obtained by Deadspin that showed significant bruises on the body of Hardy’s former girlfriend, Hardy’s explanation was: “Pictures are pictures, and they can be made to look like whatever.”

More often than not in sports, there seems to be no shortage of people willing to compromise their integrity to rationalize giving those who have been accused or convicted of domestic violence a chance that they really haven’t earned.

Strangely, seeing Hardy so readily accepted in another sport and the degree to which White is trying to frame Hardy’s presence into some kind of redemption story made me think of an athlete who committed domestic violence but actually has proved he deserves another chance.

I’m talking about Ray Rice, who instantly became a pariah once TMZ released footage of him knocking his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator.

That was four years ago, and Rice’s case was supposedly a much-needed wake-up call for how leagues handle domestic violence issues.

The irony is that as leagues have struggled with how to deal with domestic violence, Rice has become the prime example of what a redemption story really looks like.

Rice went to counseling, worked closely with domestic violence survivor advocacy groups, and has since spoken with dozens of college teams and some NFL teams about domestic violence and toxic masculinity. Rice’s actions have shown true remorse. And even though he understands his NFL career is likely over, that hasn’t made him any less vigilant about the impactful work he’s done in the aftermath of a terrible moment in his life.

“What I do for these clubs and college teams is I paint a picture for them to how I got to February 2014, because that just doesn’t happen,” said Rice, who is scheduled to visit the Oakland Raiders this week. “When I start to go back to my life story — without making any excuses — of not asking for help, and making football everything. Football for me should have been a tool. I tell these kids they’re making football everything, but when it’s gone, you still have to uncover all the things in your life.”

Rice, 31, who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2013, has been married to Janay for nearly five years, and the couple has two children. By his own admission, he doesn’t believe he’d be nearly as devoted to his family if football was still his primary focus.

“If I didn’t lose the part of football that was having this great hold over my life, I would never have gained this sense of family,” he said. “I would have never known what it was like to enjoy being a dad.”

Some of the same people who won’t forgive Rice are perfectly fine with the re-emergence of Hardy and Johnny Manziel, who is now playing in the Canadian Football League despite his own ugly history with domestic violence. As part of a plea agreement for hitting his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, two years ago, Manziel was ordered to complete an anger management class, attend a domestic violence impact panel and participate in a substance abuse program in order for his domestic violence charges to be dropped. Crowley told the New York Post that she suffered years of abuse from Manziel and that she is now partially deaf in her left ear because of that last incident.

While nobody is going to feel sorry for Rice, it just doesn’t feel right to see Hardy and Manziel back in the spotlight. Certainly Manziel has opened up about struggling with bipolar disorder and alcohol, but he hasn’t had a whole lot to say about putting his hands on his former girlfriend.

Rice said he isn’t bitter about the opportunities Hardy and Manziel received. Instead, he’s prayerful.

“I’ve learned to never talk bad about people,” Rice said. “I’ve learned to whisper silent prayers that if I can do it and change how I think about situations, my prayer is that they’re doing it and they’re out there with a second chance and they’ll do something with it and make the best of that opportunity. I whisper something silent, I just hope that they hear it.”

Jemele Hill is a Senior Correspondent and Columnist for ESPN and The Undefeated.