A story published Wednesday by Deadspin's Diana Moskovitz revealed potentially troubling conclusions about the NFL's power within the justice system. Earlier this year, the league was able to obtain photos that were used as evidence against Greg Hardy during his domestic violence trial. To obtain those photos, the NFL employed a convoluted method that nonetheless achieved its desired result: Uncommon access to an employee's records.
Hardy was arrested in May 2014 after a troubling incident in which he allegedly threatened to kill his girlfriend, Nicole Holder, choked her, and threw her against a futon and on a couch covered with guns. He was found guilty in July, but was allowed to appeal and ultimately had charges dropped in February after Holder declined to testify.
Before determining Hardy's 10-game suspension in April (ultimately reduced to four games) the NFL wanted as much visual evidence of the alleged assault as possible. It already had photos that were part of two separate police files, but another set was unavailable because it had been handed to prosecutors by a non-law enforcement source.
The NFL argued that the photos should be part of public record, and threatened to sue after requests for the photos to Mecklenburg County district attorney R. Andrew Murray were denied. The DA's office said that the photos could not be made public because they were being used in a criminal investigation.
So the NFL offered a deal: A protective order that amounted to a non-disclosure act. Over a series of emails, NFL and DA office representatives worked out an agreement that would give the photos to the NFL with the stipulation that the NFL drop its lawsuit within 48 hours of receiving them.
The DA added curious language to the agreement to justify giving the photos, saying it was "in the interest of justice, because of the nature of the conduct involved, and due to the unique factors present in this situation."
There’s nothing out of the ordinary about the "conduct involved"—domestic abuse happens every day in America. There don’t seem to be any "unique factors" other than the NFL being, well, the NFL. The question about if these are public records—a document so important the public has a right to see it—is not only removed but flat-out refuted. By the terms of this agreement, everyone involved stipulates that these "are not public records," meaning that you and I have no right to see them. But, curiously, the NFL—according to both the NFL and Mecklenburg County prosecutors—does.
Seemingly, the NFL was able to gain exclusive access to the photos just by flexing the might of its legal team.
Moskovitz goes on to discuss the implications -- whether the NFL could have obtained the photos if Hardy was part of a stronger union, for example -- and how the NFL now has a blueprint and precedent to obtain records for its use that are not available to the public. In the case of Hardy, it may have obtained something that would have incited significant public backlash if released.
The NFL may have covered its butt, and in the process gained an even stronger control over its employees.
The entire story is well worth your time. Head over to Deadspin now to read it.