Domestic violence front and center in NC as Panthers owner breaks down at gala

September 10, 2014

As the spotlight intensifies on NFL headquarters in New York with every new report in the Ray Rice domestic-abuse scandal, and with the spotlight set to move to Baltimore for Thursday night's game between the Ravens and Steelers, the focus on domestic abuse shifted to Charlotte, NC, on Wednesday, with both a Panthers player and the team's owner making headlines.

First came Panthers practice, where star quarterback Cam Newton practiced with the team and spoke with the media after missing last Sunday's season opener with rib and ankle injuries. But noticeably absent from practice was another Carolina Pro Bowler, defensive end Greg Hardy.

The absence was apparently unexpected — at least for the media — though later head coach Ron Rivera said Hardy was excused for "personal reasons". Rivera refused to divulge any additional details, but the Charlotte Observer reported that Hardy was meeting his attorney as Hardy continues his appeal of a July conviction by a judge of threatening and assaulting his girlfriend in May.

Hardy has yet to be disciplined by the NFL as the appeal process runs its course. After the conviction, Hardy appealed for a jury trial, and that trial is scheduled for Nov. 17. A spokesman for the league told ESPN that Hardy's case remains under review but reiterated the case has "not been resolved by the court.''

Later in the day, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell canceled his scheduled appearance in Charlotte to present Panthers owner Jerry Richardson with a humanitarian award, the Echo Award Against Indifference. Richardson still attended the gala and received the award, then while at the podium reportedly broke down in tears "and was having difficulty breathing" in front of the crowd.

Richardson never mentioned Hardy by name. Here is some of what he said:

"Standing before you tonight, I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge an issue weighing heavily on our sport and our society. When it comes to domestic violence, my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple.

"To those who would suggest that we've been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge. Over the course of our . . . 20 years, we have worked extremely hard to build an organization of integrity . . . I will work hard to continue to earn your trust."

Richardson was reportedly taken immediately off stage and out of the building.

The Panthers play the Lions on Sunday, Carolina's home opener. Rivera reportedly told reporters on Thursday that Hardy, who did play and recorded a sack in Week 1's victory at Tampa Bay, would play this Sunday if he practices Thursday. But Rivera also acknowledged the scrutiny his decisions with respect to Hardy will face in light of Rice's release by the Ravens and indefinite suspension by the NFL after Monday's release of the video showing Rice hit his then-fiancee (now wife) in an Atlantic City casino elevator in February.

"There's a lot of things going on,'' Rivera said. "I get that. I understand that. But at the same time we're going to continue about the business. It's a very tragic situation that's going on [with Rice]. And we're going from there.

"I have a tremendous amount of empathy and respect for the people who are in this situation. It's very difficult. But I'm going to only talk about football from this point on. Just understand that. OK?''