By Lucas Croft
Turn on ESPN, Fox Sports, or any other nationally-broadcast sports television network, and you will notice a common theme, almost none of the paid talking heads are talking about events happening on the field. Lately, the NFL has suffered lump after lump in terms of media attention. Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez gets charged and convicted of homicide, damning footage of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice surfaces of him knocking out his then fiancé and dragging her into an elevator, and Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson is suspended for allegedly beating his son.
The last couple years has not been kind to the NFL PR department, and rightfully so. Almost every step of the way, the NFL has mishandled itself in light of these situations. The latest incident involving now Dallas Cowboys defensive end, Greg Hardy, has drawn the ire of football fans, women’s rights advocates, and human beings with any decency.
A year and a half ago, Hardy’s then girlfriend Nicole Holder was stopped by the police as she was running down the street barefoot and crying. When asked by the officer why she was crying, Holder responded “It doesn’t matter. Nothing is going to happen to him anyways.” It turns out mere minutes before this conversation, Hardy — who at the time played for the Carolina Panthers — had “thrown her against a tile bathtub wall, tossed her on a futon covered in assault rifles, and choked her until she told him to ‘kill me so I don’t have to'”.
That evening began a long and winding legal process that eventually involved a bench trial, an out of court settlement, and the charges being expunged from Hardy’s record. (You can read the full details of the evening and legal proceedings on Deadspin). The act itself was disgusting by its own merit, but to compound the issue, Hardy then found a spot on the Dallas Cowboys roster where owner Jerry Jones has since referred to him as “one of the real leaders on this team…with respect from all of his teammates.”
The photos and details released by Deadspin last week, and Hardy’s subsequent playing time on Sunday Night Football last night are a sobering reminder of two facts. There are things far more important and worth talking about than sports at times, and that regardless of how much of a garbage human being you are, good lawyers, some talent, and an organization willing to look the other way in the face of hard evidence can cover over a multitude of sins.
On July 18, 2013, EA Sports announced that they would be removing then New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez from Madden and NCAA Football due to allegations that he was involved in the killing of Olin Lloyd. The decision came as Hernandez awaited trial for the crime of which he was later found guilty. In September of 2014, after video surfaced of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulting his then-fiancé Janay Palmer, Madden removed the suspended running back from the game.
Greg Hardy is still available to use in Madden NFL 16, but the incident raises the question, Do Madden and other sports titles have a moral obligation to remove players who have been involved in violent crimes?
The goal for all simulation sports releases such as Madden, NBA 2k, FIFA, etc., is one thing. To deliver the highest degree of realism to your title every year. This means replicating stadiums, tweaking and upgrading face scans, updating jersey designs, and making sure all the players on the field make their way into the game. However, in instances like Greg Hardy where the evidence is so damning, the public so enraged, and the NFL so mum after the report, EA Sports is in a unique position. With Madden they can take a stand where the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys have not by removing Hardy from their title.
Yes, the collective bargaining agreement handcuffs the NFL to deliver another more stern punishment to Greg Hardy. Yes, the 10-game suspension which was later reduced to 4-games — the same amount Tom Brady would have gotten for deflating footballs — after an appeal seems like a giant middle finger to the victim of the crime and women that the NFL pretends to care about every October, but seemingly forgets when similar instances like Hardy’s occur. And yes, the NFL may have bigger fish to fry than worrying about what a video game developer decides to do in these cases. The point still stands that EA Sports can take a stance against the disregard for human decency in this case and stand in opposition to the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys by removing an NFLPA player from their roster.
The relationship between Madden and the NFL is not one of lop-sided importance. While the license which EA Sports has utilized since Madden NFL 94 has generated an exorbitant amount of money for the publisher, the league has grown in popularity partly due to the success of the Madden franchise. The fact that a product with such a longstanding relationship with the league would fall out of alignment with the NFL on this issue would demand a response from the league.
There are several options here.
First, the NFL continues to ignore the move while EA takes a stand that justice in the face of domestic violence is a far greater principle than the realism of their game.
Second, the NFL pushes back at EA by threatening to remove the license thus admitting what we already know about their stance on the issue.
Third, the NFL responds to both EA’s uprising and the voice of the incensed public on the matter by entering into an actual dialogue about their mishandling of these situations as they work towards a clear solution to domestic violence among their players and other violent crimes carried out by people associated with their league. This is what needs to happen! Each league has had their fair share of issues to overcome. The MLB had to face steroids head-on in the late 90s and 2000’s. The NBA had referee gambling scandals to fight against. Each of these situations were met with a discussion
Where is the line? If these companies are going to distance themselves from player’s who’s choices fail to align with their views as a company, how far do you take that? I recognize that not all scandals and disciplinary issues are created equal and even the finer points of similar looking cases can be argued and disagreed upon.
Is NBA 2K responsible for removing Ty Lawson after two DUIs landed him in rehab? Is MLB the Show responsible for ensuring that no player could utilize Ryan Braun after he was suspended for steroid use? Is Madden responsible for removing Riley Cooper after he made racist remarks at a concert several years ago? The minutiae of the arguments can be decided upon later, but when these events involve violent acts towards another human being the line in the sand must be drawn.
Let’s be honest for a moment, though. This is not EA’s problem. It is the NFL’s. EA Sports can make a stand, but if the NFL is unwilling to step forward and change the culture amongst its players and drop the hammer in instances of domestic violence, we will be able to copy and paste this article with different names every few years. Real change will happen when the commissioner of the NFL, owners, and NFLPA determine this is something that needs to be addressed.
In the meantime, these sports titles can let their licensed companies know where they stand on the issue by saying even if these players man your real-life sidelines, they have no place on ours!