-- Mariska Hargitay was on the field at the New York Giants game Sunday night. The "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit" actor has spent 17 years playing a detective who investigates crimes such as sexual assault and domestic violence, and her off-camera life has been spent bringing awareness to those same issues.
The Giants were honoring her Joyful Heart Foundation, which had produced another series of anti-domestic-violence public service announcements with NFL players such as William Gay and Jason Witten. Hargitay waved to the Giants' home crowd as she participated in the ceremonial coin flip. On the other side of the field were the Dallas Cowboys and their defensive end Greg Hardy.
If Hardy was paying attention to any of this, he didn't show it. Later in the game, en route to a Dallas loss, Hardy burst into the special-teams huddle and appeared to lose control, smacking away coordinator Rich Bisaccia's clipboard and needing to be pulled away. In this drama, an inactive Dez Bryant played the unlikely role of the level-headed teammate. (It's worth noting that Hardy does not play special teams.)
This behavior would, at most, raise an eyebrow if it were any other NFL player, but Hardy was accused of domestic violence and was hired by the Cowboys after he spent most of last season on the commissioner's exempt list after an incident with a former girlfriend in spring 2014.
But what was worse Sunday was the way Cowboys coaches and owner Jerry Jones justified, laughed off and excused an angry tirade from a player who needs to prove he has his emotions under control.
Jones -- who brought Hardy to the Cowboys, using the somber tones of rehabilitation -- didn't have a problem with the stormy outburst. He said: "As a matter of fact, I would encourage it. He's of course one of the real leaders on this team, and he earns it. He earns it with the respect from all of his teammates. That's the kind of thing that inspires."
That kind of inspiration resulted in a fourth-quarter meltdown and a 27-20 loss to the Giants. But Cowboys coach Jason Garrett also had Hardy's back, saying, "You want the guys with passion."
Yesterday, the NFL ran the "No More" public service announcements during each game. One of them featured Gay, the Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback whose mother was killed in an act of domestic violence. In the spot, the camera is close to Gay's face as he speaks movingly of wanting to keep others from the experience of losing a loved one the way he did.
Now that's the kind of thing that inspires.
Garrett, for one, apparently thought better of his ill-considered praise and told local radio's 105.3 The Fan on Monday that Hardy's clipboard smacking came at the wrong time and place. Garrett said: "We got that conveyed and communicated, and we all moved on."
That's a relief.
Yet Jones continues to enable a player who has gotten away with violent behavior in the past. NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the league won't be looking into the incident because it usually leaves such intrasquad issues up to the team, and the Cowboys don't seem like a team looking to discipline a player who was clearly being disruptive. So the NFL appears to be the land of the second chances -- provided you can deliver quarterbacks to the turf on a regular basis.
No More's website has a page that points to ways people can help prevent violence. A big part of that is taking bystanders and turning them into people who say something about problematic or violent behavior.
With any other player, what happened Sunday is a one-day discussion. But context is important. The NFL becomes a bystander if it allows the Cowboys to enable a player who has been accused of domestic violence and having trouble controlling his temper. As the Cowboys do this, many in their fan base on Twitter echo the sentiment that a player's volatility is acceptable as long as the team wins (which it isn't, but that's another story).
The NFL has made great strides in advancing the anti-violence discussion, and has arguably taken the issue into living rooms across America through PSAs such as the ones Hargitay's group has produced. Now, commissioner Roger Goodell needs to pick up the phone and educate Jones. It's a difficult conversation, but until Jones takes this seriously, the league's message on domestic violence isn't as clear as the PSAs it promotes.