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The NFL can't make Greg Hardy disappear

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The Cowboys could cut Greg Hardy. But if the team or the league were serious about domestic violence, they'd hold him accountable.

Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports

It'd be easier for all of us if Jerry Jones just cut Greg Hardy. We'd get the satisfaction of feeling Hardy received some measure of punishment for what he did to Nicole Holder and say the team did the right thing (finally) by taking a stand against domestic violence. We’d proclaim victory over the NFL’s woefully flawed investigation and hearing processes, a star chamber that disregards almost every notion of neutral fact finding. Cowboys fans would go back to rooting for the team without reservation, and everyone else would revert to hating the Cowboys for the usual, decidedly less societally important, reasons.

But banishing Greg Hardy only has a deterrence effect on the limited population that might forfeit the chance at a multimillion dollar sports contract. It's a move that makes the NFL look tough on domestic violence without doing anything substantive to solve the problem. Banning players who commit domestic violence or sexual assault from the sport treats the issue as though it's an infection. We simply identify the diseased tissue, remove it and go about our healthy football lives.

The problem is, those players don't cease to exist once Roger Goodell or a major college football conference excommunicate them -- they just stop being our problem as fans. That not-in-my-back-yard approach plays right into the hands of the NFL and NCAA, because it furthers their ability to market football as A Good Game For Good Men. Even the way we talk about Greg Hardy's employment aligns with ownership. We call it a privilege to play in the NFL, ignoring the long-term health risks and the fact that it's the only major sport without guaranteed contracts. We insist it's offensive that the Cowboys are paying Hardy millions of dollars, even though we wouldn't be less outraged were he only making $745,000 (the veteran's minimum for his experience) or less than that in the CFL.

What's offensive about Jerry Jones keeping Greg Hardy on the team isn't the money. It's Jones' comments and posture, treating Hardy's actions like a parent whose child just dinged a car learning to drive in a mall parking lot. Do the Cowboys know or care if Greg Hardy still owns the 10 weapons he turned over to the police while his case was pending? Have they required Hardy to see a counselor or perform any community service, possibly with teammate Jason Witten's charitable foundation, which focuses on combating domestic violence?

I suspect the answer to both of those questions is no, because the status quo doesn't put any pressure on them. If Hardy plays well and doesn't break the law, they weather the PR hit and talk vaguely about second chances. If things take a turn, the Cowboys cut Hardy without any financial penalty and talk vaguely about blown second chances. In either case, a franchise worth $4 billion hasn't had to expend any resources to prevent future domestic abuse.

Most people consider Greg Hardy's time in Dallas a second chance he hasn't earned and want to see it ended as soon as possible. But the real second chance Hardy got was from state prosecutors, who dropped his case on appeal after he reached a settlement with the victim -- and nothing the NFL or the Cowboys do changes that. Rather than calling for Jerry Jones to remove Hardy from the payroll, we should ask Jones to hold Hardy accountable, to do something meaningful to protect Nicole Holder and anyone else Hardy might harm. According to a 2009 National Institute of Justice review, several studies showed that completion of a batterer intervention program substantially reduced the likelihood of future violence. It's not a guarantee, but it's better than shuffling Hardy out of the glare that is the NFL spotlight.

Beyond Hardy, the larger question is what role we think the NFL should have in addressing domestic violence. We can demand that the NFLPA give Roger Goodell greater power to suspend or even ban players, despite his dismal track record so far. We can pressure advertisers to pull their money from NFL teams until they remove the offenders from their rosters. In the absolute best case scenario, we'll have pressured the league into ensuring that no one who commits a crime as heinous as Hardy's ever comes close to the field again, and the sport will be cleansed.

Or we can ask the NFL to be a responsible corporation and use its record profits to attempt some measure of reform. Greg Hardy wasn't the first pro athlete to strike a woman, and he won't be the last. They don't disappear from the world just because they disappear from the game.