Guns blazin'? Guns blazin'?
Greg Hardy, fresh off a four-game suspension for domestic violence stemming from an incident that included, according to court testimony, throwing alleged victim Nicole Holder onto a futon covered with rifles, told reporters this week that he hopes to "come out guns blazin' " against the Patriots this Sunday.
Poor choice of words? Unfathomably tasteless joke?
Hardy, who was originally found guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill Holder (the case was dismissed when Holder failed to appear in court for a second trial), didn't stop with the guns. He also made jokes about the sexiness of Gisele Bundchen (Tom Brady's wife) and how he hopes "she comes to the game. I hope her sister comes to the game, all her friends come to the game."
Lest Bundchen's fame as a supermodel make Hardy's remarks palatable, he also talked up the idea that Blake Bortles' wife might be attractive when someone at the press conference raised the topic. Bortles isn't even married, for what it's worth.
So, incredibly tasteless jokes they were. Or something much more troubling.
"What we know, because we have been at this for a long time, is that [domestic violence] is usually not a one-time incident. It usually occurs much more frequently than that one time," said Esta Soler, president and founder of Futures Without Violence.
Soler is one of the nation's leading experts on domestic violence. She was consulting with the NFL about updating its policies long before Ray Rice and Janay Palmer entered a Revel Casino elevator 20 months ago. She has also become a kind of professional pen pal of mine over the last few months.
Soler had not heard Hardy's comments when I spoke to her, and she was sketchy on the details of his case: Events of last year's NFL Season of Shame tend to blur together. She reacted to the "guns blazin' " remark with a restrained "wow" when I caught her up.
"If he's back on the field and he's a great football player, we want to make sure he's not perceived to be a spokesperson for how you handle these issues," she said, maybe understating things a bit.
There aren't many people who think gun jokes, bring all the sexy ladies to the game jokes or a steadfast refusal to "reminisce" about his actions make Hardy much of a spokesperson or role model. We're outraged.
But then, we're often outraged, sometimes over trivial matters like a thoughtless remark or a lame joke. Soler helped point a finger to what we should really be outraged about this time.
"What I would be concerned about," Soler said, "is [whether] he was under treatment for any period of time or counseling to deal with the fact that he committed this act. What did he do to deal with the fact that he hurt somebody?"
That's what to be outraged about. Hardy doesn't come across as a mere smart aleck. He doesn't seem to have learned his lesson. Or worse, for a guy who wriggled through so many technicalities to be able to take the field this week, he may have learned the exact opposite lesson.
Men who strangle women, threaten them, shove them into walls and involve firearms in their domestic disputes need both punishment and counseling. The counseling is critical, because the recidivism rate for domestic violence is incredibly high—roughly 41 percent in the 30-month period after being referred to a batterer program, according to statistics cited by the American Bar Association.
The NFL's new domestic violence policy guidelines say quite a bit about investigative policies, punishments and appeals but very little about counseling.
Commissioner Roger Goodell ordered Hardy to undergo a clinical evaluation and take part in any recommended treatment when he levied his original 10-game suspension. But it's unknown what the evaluation recommended. And only Hardy knows how seriously he took any attempts to help him change the behaviors that erased over a year of his NFL career and created, according to the testimony, a night of life-or-death horror for someone close to him.
No one expects a football player to recount his therapy notes during his first press conference after a suspension. But Hardy sounds like the guy who rolled his eyes through a few "Drive Responsibly" sessions after a DUI. His message, the first message we have heard from a player returning from a domestic violence suspension, was not one of contrition or understanding. It was worse than even a defiant declaration of innocence. It was a laugh and a shrug.
Most of us expected, if not the sincere, passionate apologies Rice eventually delivered, some boilerplate remarks from Hardy: I lost my way; I have grown as a person. In fact, we craved them. There's nothing more comfortable than a familiar semi-apology and a few safe off-tackle plunges from the therapy-culture playbook. Hardy could have given us a tidy redemption angle to write about.
Maybe it would have been too tidy. This is not something to be whisked aside with a little lip service and a narrative about returning to the Cowboys in the nick of time to save their season.
But there are a lot of people who would really want to hate the sin and love the sinner, to put domestic abuse issues on a side burner for three hours and root for Hardy without a queasy feeling in their stomachs. That would have required Hardy to at least pretend to feel a little remorse or even display some rock-bottom sensitivity.
"You put him back on the field, and yet his story about whether he did what he needs to do is still unanswered," Soler said.
It must be pointed out that Soler is no "throw away the key" extremist when it comes to domestic violence. She considers domestic violence to be a preventable crime and a treatable societal ill. The NFL can heal families, curtail violence and send a powerful message, not by banning Greg Hardy and Ray Rice forever, but by using its resources to create real programs, both for NFL players and (through the NCAA and USA Football) athletes at lower levels where the negative behaviors that lead to violent crimes begin.
"It can get reversed, but you have to participate in a program that addresses the issues that you got in trouble for," she said.
The key word is participate. The therapeutic element of the road back to the NFL must be taken seriously. It's more important than the exact length of the suspension, but it's the part that is rarely talked about. And it involves more than a few Tony Soprano lie-downs in the psychologist's office during the offseason.
Soler: "It doesn't get corrected in a short period of time. You need to stay with it, because it's probably a pattern that's been going on for years."
Hardy does not sound like someone who participated honestly in any therapy or counseling. He doesn't sound like someone who takes the severity of his what he's done seriously. He doesn't sound like someone who has just been punished. After winning a legal appeal and getting his suspension shortened by the NFL, he sounds like someone who has just won. Who feels vindicated.
He sounds like someone likely to repeat his mistakes.
That's a real reason to be outraged.
Mike Tanier covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.