There is No Moral Code in the NFL


On Friday, Deadspin writer Diana Moskovitz released an article deatiling the infamous Greg Hardy domestic assault incident and case, complete with photos depicting numerous bruises to Hardy’s accuser, his former girlfriend Nicole Holder, as well as a couple shots of scratches on Hardy. The jarring photos, showing developing bruises on Holder’s arms, neck, back, and foot, garnered the response that is precisely what one would expect. People were outraged, calling for his immediate release from the Dallas Cowboys’ roster, and his banishment from the National Football League. That’s what a person with moral standards would say.

Therein lies the problem. The NFL is not a league based on morals. It’s a violent game, and sometimes, that violence doesn’t end on the field. Domestic violence has become one of the league’s biggest issues, and while the number of cases has slowed (somewhat) in recent months, the thought that news could break on another case at any moment still exists in the back of everyone’s mind .

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The photos from the Hardy case are the most recent in a line of cases with shocking photographic evidence. In the case of former Baltimore Ravens’ running back Ray Rice, there was a clear surveillance video showing that Rice punched his wife, Janay, in the face, knocking her unconscious, in a hotel elevator in Atlantic City during March of 2014. In Adrian Peterson’s case, there were photos that the Minnesota Vikings’ running back’s son had been abused, with gashes on his legs and behind. Peterson was accused of using a switch on his son. These three cases are the most notable in the league.

Rice was released by the Ravens before the 2014 season, and despite comeback attempts, he hasn’t played in the NFL since. Peterson wasn’t formally ‘suspended’, but after playing in the season-opening game in 2014, he was deactivated by the Vikings for one game, and then placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List for the remainder of the 2014 season. Peterson was reinstated for the 2015 season, and has played in all seven of the Vikings’ games this year.

Hardy went through a similar situation as Peterson last year. After starting the season on the field with the Carolina Panthers, Hardy was deactivated for a game and then placed on the Commissioner’s Exempt List for the rest of the year. The Panthers released Hardy after the season. While Peterson was not suspended by the NFL, Hardy was suspended for 10 games. Later, an arbitrator ruled that Hardy should have been suspended under the previous rules, and reduced his suspension to four games. After serving his suspension, Hardy returned to the Cowboys, and has played in three games.

So what’s the difference between Rice, who is out of the NFL, and Peterson and Hardy, who are both still playing? It’s simple: performance. As long as the on-field performance outweighs the off-field issues, an NFL team will take their chances.

Rice was coming off his worst season in 2013, as he totaled 660 yards and four touchdowns on 214 carries (all his lowest totals since his rookie year in 2008), and gained 3.1 yards per carry, the lowest of his career. The Ravens could release Rice, and besides from a bit of financial damage, not lose much on their offense.

Hardy was (and still is) one of the most feared pass-rushers in football, as he racked up 26 sacks in 31 games between 2012 and 2013, and has three sacks in three games this season. When Hardy was released by Carolina, the Cowboys swooped in and gave him a deal, while simultaneously filling their need for a game-changing pass-rusher.

Peterson gained over 100 rushing yards per game and scored 22 touchdowns in the two years preceding his legal troubles. Minnesota, despite all kinds of rumors of trade and potential releases, kept Peterson on their roster, and the running back has had a big helping hand in the Vikings’ 5-2 start.

Morals aren’t important. Getting after the quarterback, or breaking tackles on the way to the endzone for a touchdown are important. The NFL, and their teams, aren’t overly concerned with public perception, and it’s becoming more apparent. If the NFL was based mostly on morals, Tim Tebow would be the biggest star in the league. Instead, the performance-based league has no place for Tebow, who is not an NFL-quality quarterback. Sorry Tebow, you’re a great guy, but that doesn’t make a difference in the league.

Next: Raiders: Observations and Notes from Week Eight

It’s not just Hardy and Peterson. There’s plenty of bad eggs to go around. Aldon Smith, Ahmad Brooks, and Dorial Green-Beckham are just a tiny microcosm of the dozens and dozens of players who’ve gone through legal troubles.

Maybe it would be best for guys like Peterson and Hardy to be banned from the NFL for life, for the league to wipe their hands of the controversy . But commissioner Roger Goodell is too busy dealing with things like Deflategate, and banning vines and .gifs to deal with things like this. Priorities isn’t in the league’s vocabulary.