Football Fans Vote Not To Let Their Team Sign This Controversial Player

Greg Hardy’s history of domestic violence kept him out of a job

Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

In 2014, Pro Bowl defensive player Greg Hardy assaulted his then girlfriend, choking her and throwing her down on top of a futon covered in assault rifles. But that didn’t stop the Dallas Cowboys from signing him the following season. Some Cowboys fans, including Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, criticized the team, but there was little they could do. This time, though, a team’s fans did have a say when it came to signing Hardy.

The Salt Lake Screaming Eagles of the Indoor Football League held a vote this week, asking their supporters to decide whether Hardy should join the team. In a 10-hour online poll that closed just after midnight Eastern time, the voters rejected the 28-year-old defensive end by the slimmest of margins—50.1 to 49.9—and, thus, he remains looking for a team.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Playing is a privilege, not a right. I believe that privilege is lost for men who have a history of abusing women.[/quote]

While it’​s pretty strange for a pro franchise to allow its fans a voice on whom the team signs, it’s actually part of Salt Lake’​s business model. Ownership has embraced the idea that there’s wisdom in crowds, allowing fans to vote on it’​s name, coaching hires, and, even, play calling. It’​s a radical experiment in sports fandom that culminated in the Hardy decision this week.

Ahead of the vote, the team was pretty open with fans about the stakes involved with Hardy, acknowledging his quality as a player, while letting fans know about his recent brushes with the law.

Hardy was arrested in 2014 for assaulting his girlfriend (he was convicted on assault charges in a bench trial, which were later dismissed in a jury trial); he was suspended four games by the NFL prior to the 2015 season. He was also arrested in 2016 on a charge of cocaine possession, but reached a plea agreement to reduce the charges from a felony to a ‘misdemeanor with some strict conditions.’

Since video of Ray Rice punching his then fiancé sent shockwaves through the NFL in 2014, the football world has had a tough time figuring out how to deal with domestic abusers among its ranks. In the past, teams have turned a blind eye to the issue. Rice was actually given a lenient suspension by the league for his assault until video of the incident leaked and a huge public backlash ensued. Though Rice has never played again, and Hardy now finds it hard to sign with a team, one of the league’s breakout stars, Tyreek Hill pled guilty in college to battering his pregnant girlfriend, and University of Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon broke a woman’s jaw with a punch, but is still a big prospect in this year’s NFL Draft.

​However, teams do appear to be taking domestic violence more seriously than in the past. Hill was thrown off his college team after his conviction, and now as Mixon enters the draft, teams such as the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots say they won’t draft him. The team’s owner, Robert Kraft, told the Boston Herald this week "While I believe in second chances and giving players an opportunity for redemption, I also believe that playing in the NFL is a privilege, not a right. For me, personally, I believe that privilege is lost for men who have a history of abusing women."

​Perhaps attitudes are changing toward domestic violence from the people who run football teams. This week’s Salt Lake Screaming Eagles vote may show that fans’ attitudes have already changed.

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