CHARLOTTE, NC (Joseph Person/The Charlotte Observer) - While the Carolina Panthers weigh their options on the status of Greg Hardy, the NFL could make the decision for them.
The league is considering intervening in Hardy's case, either to advise the Panthers in the handling of it or to take action against Hardy, according to an NFL.com report Tuesday.
Pro Football Talk first reported Tuesday the league might suspend Hardy without pay for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.
Panthers sources said they have not heard from the league and are continuing their investigation into the domestic violence charges against Hardy. The Pro Bowl defensive end is awaiting a jury trial after a district judge found him guilty in July of assaulting and threatening to kill his ex-girlfriend.
Coach Ron Rivera deactivated Hardy for the Week 2 win against Detroit in the wake of the release and subsequent suspension of Baltimore running back Ray Rice and the decision by Minnesota to deactivate Adrian Peterson after he was charged with child abuse.
Rivera said Monday that Hardy will practice this week, and the Panthers will decide later whether to let him play Sunday night against Pittsburgh.
But the league could step in and take action, particularly in light of the public and corporate pressure NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is feeling for his handling of Rice's situation.
A day after Radisson Hotels pulled its limited sponsorship of the Vikings, Budweiser, one of the league's largest sponsors, said Tuesday it was "increasingly concerned" about the domestic violence scandals that have rocked the league.
Joel Corry, a former sports agent who writes about NFL issues for cbssports.com, said he wouldn't be surprised to see Goodell take action against Hardy and Peterson, whose reinstatement Monday has drawn stinging criticism.
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and Sen. Al Franken called on the Vikings to sit Peterson after he was indicted for injuring his 4-year-old son with a switch.
The personal conduct policy gives Goodell considerable latitude to discipline players for any of the following:
• Criminal offenses ranging from domestic violence and sex offenses to theft, property crimes, obstruction or resisting arrest, fraud, racketeering and money laundering;
• Crimes related to steroids and prohibited substances, and substances of abuse;
• Violent or threatening behavior among employees;
• Taking a gun to the stadium or team facilities; unlawful possession of a weapon outside the workplace;
• Conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person;
• And most broadly, conduct that threatens the integrity and reputation of the NFL.
Nicole Holder, Hardy's ex-girlfriend, testified during the bench trial that during an early-morning altercation at Hardy's condo May 13, Hardy threw her into a bathtub, tossed her on a futon covered with rifles, put his hands around her throat and threatened to kill her.
During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Jamie Adams presented about two dozen photos showing bruises on Holder, mostly on her back. Chris Fialko, Hardy's attorney, argued no man as big as the 6-4, 275-pound Hardy could do what Holder claimed he did without seriously injuring her.
Hardy told the judge Holder was the aggressor, swinging at him, threatening to kill herself and throwing herself into the bathtub.
Corry, the former sports agent, said no "reasonable person" could argue Hardy's domestic violence incident wouldn't meet the "conduct detrimental" criteria.
The Panthers allowed Hardy to play in Week 1 at Tampa Bay. But in explaining his decision to deactivate Hardy two days after telling reporters Hardy would start against the Lions, Rivera said the climate had changed around the NFL after the TMZ video surfaced of Rice knocking out his then-fiancée and the news broke of Peterson's charges.
Hardy, who is due a guaranteed $13.1 million this season after getting the franchise tag, made about $770,000 for sitting out the game Sunday.
Rivera said Monday that general manager Dave Gettleman and other members of the front office were doing their due diligence in regards to Hardy and the organization wanted to make sure it got it right.
Goodell suspended Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger six games in 2010 after he was accused – but never charged – of sexually assaulting a Georgia college student. Goodell later reduced the suspension to four games.
But after backlash from players over what they perceived as his Draconian disciplinary measures, Goodell in recent years has waited for the legal process to play out before ruling in many cases.
League officials indicated initially they would wait until Hardy's jury trial, which is scheduled to begin Nov. 17, was finished before taking action.