This week, former NFL defensive end Greg Hardy announced to MMA Fighting that he would be pursuing a career in MMA. Hardy, who went to the Pro Bowl after amassing a Carolina Panthers-record 15 sacks in 2013, hasn't played at all in 2016 after a lackluster 2015 season with the Dallas Cowboys.
Why "former"? Why hasn't Hardy, an unsigned free agent, played in 2016 despite the level of talent he obviously possesses?
It's not just that Hardy spent all but one game of the 2014 season on the sidelines as the result of an arrest and initial conviction for a serious incident, exhaustively detailed by Diana Moskovitz of Deadspin, of domestic violence. According to the victim, Hardy had thrown her against a bathroom wall and tossed her onto a futon covered in guns before choking her.
The charges were later dismissed and then expunged after Hardy settled a civil suit with the woman, who failed to appear in court for Hardy's appeal.
It's not just that his behavior was so disruptive in 2015, per the Dallas Morning News, that the Cowboys found him impossible to work with. It's not just that Hardy was arrested again three weeks ago for cocaine possession.
It's all of those things—a constant, unceasing barrage of behavior ranging from the merely immature to the truly reprehensible that stretches back to Hardy's time in high school. This year, football had finally had enough with him.
"I think in Greg's mind, as long as he's making sacks and creating turnovers, tackles for losses, he can do whatever he wants during the week. That kind of gives you an insight into his thinking," Hardy's high school coach, Joe Hamstra, told USA Today in 2015.
Reading between the lines of various statements his coaches have made over the years, the consensus is that he's uncoachable. "I just stayed the hell away from him and hoped he got on the field when it was time. Hell, I just stayed away because you never knew what to expect. You just hoped he was ready to roll when we kicked the ball off," former Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
Hardy's raw talent has never been in question, and it's why so many different organizations have put up with him over the years. It's why, assuming Hardy actually goes through with his stated desire to train and fight, some promoter will undoubtedly give him a shot.
It's also why UFC President Dana White wouldn't close the door on signing Hardy despite his well-documented issues.
Though he hedged his statement, saying Hardy would need to win in smaller shows, White settled on this formulation in an interview with Jason Whitlock of Fox Sports 1: "I'm one of those guys too who believes that we're all human beings and we all make mistakes. And when you make a mistake, you pay your penance, whatever it might be, and you should be allowed to make a living and move on in your life."
That sounds reasonable enough, right? Who doesn't deserve a second chance if they express remorse for their actions and try to change the underlying issues? What kind of hardliner would condemn a man for life for a single transgression?
But that's the essence of the problem here: This isn't Hardy's second chance, and at no point has Hardy ever expressed anything like real remorse for his actions. These tweets were the extent of Hardy's statements about the Deadspin story:
In fact, Hardy doubled down on his innocence in an interview with Adam Schefter of ESPN earlier this year. "I've never put my hand on any women...in my whole entire life, no sir."
When Schefter pressed him on this, pointing to the photos that unequivocally showed the woman's injuries, Hardy said, "I will stop you there and say that I didn't say that I didn't do anything wrong. That situation occurred and that situation was handled but…saying that I did nothing wrong is a stretch but saying I am innocent is correct. Yes sir."
Fox Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer, whose sources inside football are deep and varied, had some strong words on this. "I would be incredibly disappointed in any of my fellow MMA coaches and any promoters if they took Greg Hardy in and taught him a shred of our incredible sport," he said on Twitter.
In an interview with TMZ Sports, Glazer doubled down:
So I'm asking every other MMA coach and promotion to not allow this guy to have the privilege. He doesn't deserve it. All he's done is beat the hell out of a woman and show no remorse for it, so screw him. He shouldn't be allowed to be around the other great people in this sport. There are incredible people in this sport, great fighters who stand up for the right things, most of the coaches stand up for the right things. This is a sport where you're melting together arts, what I think are beautiful arts. A guy like Hardy has not earned the privilege to be part of this sport.
This is quite obviously overblown. MMA has its fair share of unsavory characters, and casting it as a privilege to fight and even to train is schoolyard moralizing that obscures the reality of the sport. Still, Glazer's reaction isn't unfounded.
It won't be hard to find a regional or national promoter who buys into the easy, cheap redemption angle, whether it's justified by Hardy's behavior or not, and books him for a fight.
Let's say, hypothetically, Hardy holds it together long enough to meet Dana White's standards. Athletic heavyweights who stand 6'5" and weigh 280 pounds aren't growing on trees, and it's a safe bet that Hardy's talent could carry him through to the minimum qualifications necessary to wind up in the UFC with the right training and team.
In that scenario, the UFC would have to weigh Hardy's history of domestic violence and other behavior against the upside he offers. Perhaps he can be an example of the redemptive power of the martial arts, a paragon of reborn virtue as the result of hours of grueling training sessions with tough-love coaches and experienced training partners.
But the UFC has had multiple issues with domestic violence in the past, ranging from major names such as Anthony Johnson and Travis Browne to unknowns Michael Graves and Alex Nicholson just in the last several months. Can an increasingly mainstream sport looking to revamp its reputation under new ownership afford to flirt with someone such as Hardy? Why even take the chance?
It's one thing to bring on fighters with troubled pasts of whom the general public knows nothing. It's another entirely to bring on someone who's already famous and whose public profile is dominated by trouble around a serious social issue such as domestic violence.
Hardy's incredible talent has had an intoxicating effect on college scouts and NFL talent evaluators for years now. Despite some hiccups, that talent has always shielded him from consequences, dating back to his time in high school, and it has protected him from ever truly having to take responsibility.
Will MMA be the next arena Hardy enchants before showing his true colors once again?
For the sake of the sport and its reputation, let's hope not.