The NFL has not yet decided how to punish Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy—who was convicted of assaulting his then-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, in a bench trial last summer, but later had the charges against him dropped after paying her off to stop cooperating with prosecutors—for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The league recently reached an agreement with the Mecklenburg County D.A.’s office to gain access to photos of Holder’s injuries, so as to help inform its decision regarding Hardy’s discipline. Obtaining these photos isn’t an example of the NFL doing strong investigatory work, though, it’s just our latest reminder that the league office has no idea what it’s doing.
Why does the NFL need to see these photos? They have already been seen by a district attorney who deemed it appropriate to bring domestic abuse charges against Hardy. They have already been seen by a district judge who handed down a guilty verdict. Nicole Holder has already given a detailed account, under oath, of how Hardy choked and smacked her. We went through exactly this with Ray Rice; the NFL, along with everyone else in America, already knows what happened to Nicole Holder that night.
The NFL wants these photos not because it cares about getting Hardy’s punishment right, but because it wants to get the optics of the punishment right. The question the NFL is trying to answer isn’t “Did Greg Hardy beat his ex-girlfriend?” but rather “How bad will we look if these pictures become public without us seeing them, and our punishment is deemed to have been too light?”
No sane person or organization should need to see photographic or video evidence in order to reach the conclusion that domestic violence is a crime, and a particularly monstrous one. But this is the corner the NFL has painted itself into by forming an extralegal judicial branch and insisting on being counted on to act as America’s moral authority. As long as the NFL keeps insisting that there is a proper number of games and paychecks to be missed for every conceivable legal transgression, it’s going to find itself scrambling to maintain any kind of consistency. So while everyone else has already settled on the fact that Greg Hardy did something terrible to Nicole Holder, the NFL is withholding judgment until all of the bruises have been counted. There is no clearer argument for why a sports league shouldn’t be in the business of investigating and adjudicating crimes.