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National Football League Athletes Stiff Arm the Law

By: Rachelle Cecala

Domestic violence issues in the law, economics, & race arise in several different areas of professional sports. Domestic violence amongst professional athletes, specifically professional football players, has attracted the attention of several media outlets over the years. While there are actual reports and footage of domestic violence occurring between professional football players and their significant others, charges do not seem to get filed against them frequently. Furthermore, in certain situations, professional football players enjoy the liberty of being able to continue playing football while they are under investigation; or sit out of games and practices but continue getting paid. One example is Greg Hardy, a six-foot four inches African American defensive end on the Carolina Panthers football team. In a recent article about Greg Hardy, he was found guilty of “assaulting his former girlfriend and threatening to kill her.” This conviction was found after testimony was given from Mr. Hardy himself stating that he had “flung her from the bed, threw her into a bathtub, then tossed her on a futon covered with rifles. Hardy ripped a necklace he had given her off her neck, threw it into a toilet and slammed the lid on her arm when she tried to fish it out.” Attorneys for Greg Hardy announced that they were going to appeal the matter. Under North Carolina law, those convicted of misdemeanors in a bench trial, as in Greg Hardy’s case, have a right to a jury trial in Superior Court.
Despite the guilty conviction Greg Hardy received, he was placed on the National Football League’s commissioner exempt list until the domestic case is resolved. Being placed on the exemption list means that while Greg Hardy cannot participate in practices or play in professional football games, he will still be paid “his weekly portions of a $13.1 million salary.”
Domestic violence is a serious matter that has varying consequences when it is not addressed or taken seriously. In a 2010 Harvard Law Review article, it was found that “conviction rates for athletes are astonishingly low compared to the arrest statistics. Though there is evidence that the responsiveness of police and prosecution to sexual assault complaints involving athletes is favorable, there is an off-setting pro-athlete bias on the part of juries.” Therefore, law enforcement people are responding to the complaints of domestic abuse, however, charges are not being made. Additionally, even if a professional football player is charged in connection to domestic violence, in certain instances the National Football League allows the player to receive payment or play in games rather than stripping the players of their right to play in an effort to discourage them from this sort of behavior.

The combination of not holding football players responsible for their actions in domestic violence disputes, and people not coming forward and reporting the abuse, research shows that professional athletes are much less likely to be charged for domestic violence offenses. While the National Football League is a money generating industry that relies on the talents of its players to keep the economics thriving, being a member of the National Football League should not give athletes immunity to the law or preferential treatment in domestic violence cases.

Sources:

1. Michael M. O’Hear, Symposium: Blue-Collar Crimes/White Collar criminals: Sentencing Elite Athletes who Commit Violent Crimes,12 Marq. Sports L. Rev. 427

2. Bethany P. Withers, The Integrity of the Game: Professional Athletes and Domestic Violence,1 Harv. J. Sport. & Entm’t 146, 149 (2010).

3. David Newton, Greg Hardy Placed on Exempt List, ESPN (Nov. 20, 2014, 11:43 PM) http://espn.go.com/nfl/story/_/id/11543641/greg-hardy-carolina-panthers-expected-placed-exempt-list

4. Michael Gordon, Joseph Person, & Jonathan Jones, Panthers Greg Hardy Guilty of Assaulting Female, Communicating Threats, Charlotte Observer (Nov. 20, 2014, 11:43 PM) http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/07/15/5044910/panthers-greg-hardy-arrives-for.html#.VG5-LVPF_s4

5. Justin Peters, No, Seriously, the NFL Does Have a Domestic Violence Problem, Slate (Nov. 20, 2014, 11:43 PM), http://www.slate.com/blogs/crime/2012/12/04/jovan_belcher_murder_suicide_no_seriously_the_nfl_really_does_have_a_domestic.html

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