Greg Hardy and Football

(Welcome to Footyballs. If you’re new here, this is how it works. First off, it’s all and only about the NFL, aka the Niffle. Every week I write a “Monday Wrap-Up” column, and a “Four-For-Friday” column in which I choose four upcoming games to analyze and predict. In between Monday and Friday I write an in-depth column or two on something else: a player, a current Niffle issue, an aspect of the game. My focus is on how narratives affect outcomes. And also, just to spread the joy of football, because football is super-rad and I love it. You can follow me on Twitter as well. Go Broncos.)

Ugh. Footyballs doesn’t really want to write about Greg Hardy. There are so many interesting and super-fun things happening in the Niffle, to which I would much rather give my words and time and mental space. But there’s that Jiminy Cricket, conscience/responsibility voice saying “if you want to write about football, you can’t just pick the nice cherries.” Sure, yes, okay. Some words about Greg Hardy, then.

The Greg Hardy story, as with any kind of story that blows up like this, is not just about one thing. Instead it’s a nexus-point for several different issues. One of the first things it made me think of was Dexter Manley.

Remember Dexter Manley? Star defensive end for the Redskins, back in the 1980’s, had 18.5 sacks in 1986. Suspended for a year after a third-time drug test fail (cocaine) in 1989. After a fourth drug test fail — and as such facing a lifetime ban — Manley retired in 1991. His situation got a lot worse before it got better: homeless, prison, rehab, etc, years and years of such. Currently he’s employed, married, has been clean and sober for 9 years; you can read about his story here.

Footyballs wasn’t really aware of the crazy details of Manley’s story (for example 38 visits to rehab facilities, apparently), other than a vague recall associating him with cocaine. However, none of it really surprised me, because of what I do remember about him, which is that he was illiterate. As in, he couldn’t read. Manley revealed this in 1989, when he was 31 years old. He had managed to go all the way through school — k-12 and college — without ever learning to read. He scored a 6 on his ACT college-entrance exam. No, that’s not a mis-print. He was given a full scholarship — with a score of 6 on his ACT — to Oklahoma State, where he majored in marketing, of course.

That’s insane. And awful. Hundreds of people — coaches, teachers, administrators — are complicit in never saying anything, never standing up, in exploiting Dexter Manley the football player, in never giving a rat’s ass about Dexter Manley the person.

Look at Greg Hardy’s eyes. Footyballs sees a world of pain in there, a deeply troubled soul. I read the deadspin story, the one that accompanied the photos of the bruised body of Hardy’s former girlfriend, Nicole Holder. It’s a really unpleasant story about a terrible night in an extremely dysfunctional relationship. It’s a story about enabling someone with deep-set emotional problems by giving him a boatload of money to play football.

People want to punish Greg Hardy because of what he did. Which, what he did is terrible. He lost control — what little control he had to begin with — and he is a professional football player, which means he is a physical monster, and as such nth-degree scarier than a normal person. Scarier, and that much more capable of inflicting serious bodily harm. The impression I took away from that deadspin story is that Hardy came within inches of killing Nicole Holder that night.

And then you add the guns on the futon, which is this salacious extra detail. And maybe the fact that Greg Hardy is black, and Nicole Holder is white. Power, guns, sex, drugs. Like movies and tv shows, and professional football. All our modern gods, and what entails from how we worship them.

Footyballs thinks Greg Hardy needs help. I think it’s sad that Hardy and Holder have to deal with this, with the drama and dysfunction of their private lives being splayed out in a public space. I also think that everyone — including me — who gives their time, eyes and money to professional football, is complicit in the enabling and exploitation of Greg Hardy, and as such in what happened to Nicole Holder that night.

Football is wonderful, and I love it, but like everything it has its dark side. Dexter Manley played four years in college, and was in the National Football League for 9 years, and was illiterate, and no one knew about it. I mean, c’mon.

At this point, as well, Footyballs thinks the best place for Greg Hardy right now is on a football team. The thought of him outside of that structure and alone in the world, that doesn’t sound good to me, at all. Let’s hope the Dallas Cowboys will use the tremendous resources at their disposal to give Greg Hardy the help that he needs.

Football has power because we give it power. And that’s not at all wrong, it just is what it is. Just remember when you point your finger, what it is exactly that you’re pointing at. Anyways, that’s Footyballs’ two cents. Football Day is coming up again, which is wonderful and awesome. See everyone back here shortly for this week’s picks.

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