Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.
The notion of a disreputable individual entering combat sports is hardly an unprecedented development. Over the years, there have been plenty of flawed figures who made their livings fighting other human beings for money. However, even in that world, the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s decision on June 12 to sign Greg Hardy to a developmental contract raised a lot of eyebrows. When the announcement was made following Hardy’s knockout win on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series, it led to a torrent of criticism.
There is good reason for people to be leery of Hardy. The former NFL All-Pro was convicted for an assault on an ex-girlfriend, with pictures emerging that seemed to confirm the severity of the attack. The conviction was later expunged but only because the victim stopped cooperating with the judicial process. Hardy found himself shut out of the NFL, which has given plenty of opportunities in its own right to flawed but physically talented individuals over the years. Many have made it clear they don’t like the idea of Hardy being given a chance to compete for MMA’s top promotion.
The backlash to Hardy is certainly understandable, particularly when it comes to victims of domestic violence like Jessica-Rose Clark. Those speaking out against the decision to sign Hardy aren’t wrong to voice their opinions. However, there are also good reasons to give Hardy -- and perhaps more importantly people like him -- second opportunities. It’s not a decision to be celebrated, but it is one to be understood.
Humans in general and American society in particular value the principle of giving those who make mistakes second opportunities. This is a good thing. We all make mistakes, and even if for the vast majority of us that does not mean doing the sorts of things Hardy was accused of, we all want the opportunity to make things right and continue on when we err. It doesn’t feel moral to consider those who commit crimes, within certain bounds, to be pariahs from then on, unfit to reenter society and make a living. Forgiveness is a virtue.
Beyond the moral argument in favor of giving second chances to someone like Hardy, there’s also the argument of what’s best for the rest of society. If certain types of criminals and accused criminals cannot find ways to make a living, they’re less likely to turn around their lives and never harm again. Rather, they become more likely to engage in actions that harm the rest of society. This is why societies that prioritize rehabilitation in their criminal justice systems tend to get much better results than those that do not.
In order for a second chance to feel justified, however, there usually has to be a feeling that the individual paid a price for what he or she did in the first place. This was part of the frustration directed at former Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon. He was videotaped punching a woman in the face in 2014, and Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops responded by suspending him for a year, barely a slap on the wrist given Mixon was a true freshman and the “punishment” basically consisted of his taking a redshirt year that a large percentage of freshmen take anyway. When Mixon entered the NFL, there were many teams leery of drafting him because of the feeling that if he was given preferential treatment after doing wrong he’d be more likely to do wrong in the future.
Hardy, by contrast, saw a promising NFL career fall apart principally because of the alleged domestic violence incident. He set a franchise record for sacks and was an All-Pro at the age of 25. By the age of 27, he had played his final NFL game, as no team would sign him. It’s hard to imagine no team would have signed him if it weren’t for the altercation with his ex-girlfriend. This isn’t to throw a pity party for Hardy, who made his own bed. However, it bears emphasis that his life changed irreparably because of what he did. There is money to be made in MMA, but even if he were to become UFC heavyweight champion, it would only be a fraction of the income that comes with being an elite NFL pass rusher. An entry-level contract means far less.
An additional argument in favor of giving Hardy a shot in the UFC is his particular life situation. Hardy has made a living throughout his adult life through athletics. The career of an athlete is far shorter than most careers. The longer that athletes are shunned, the less likely it is they’ll be able to take advantage of their talents and the more likely it is they’ll face problems down the road relative to those in other occupations.
None of this is to say that Hardy “deserves” the UFC chance, per se. The opportunity to compete in a major professional sports league is a privilege, and Hardy earned the additional scrutiny he has received. If the UFC or Bellator MMA didn’t want to be associated with Hardy at this point, that’s understandable and they’d certainly be under no obligation to do so. However, when it comes to what the UFC did decide to do, I’ll leave the condemnation to others. There are worse people in this world than those who hand out second opportunities to those who have done wrong.
Todd Martin has written about mixed martial arts since 2002 for a variety of outlets, including CBSSports.com, SI.com, ESPN.com, the Los Angeles Times, MMApayout.com, Fight Magazine and Fighting Spirit Magazine. He has appeared on a number of radio stations, including ESPN affiliates in New York and Washington, D.C., and HDNet’s “Inside MMA” television show. In addition to his work at Sherdog.com, he does a weekly podcast with Wade Keller at PWTorch.com and blogs regularly at LaTimes.com. Todd received his BA from Vassar College in 2003 and JD from UCLA School of Law in 2007 and is a licensed attorney. He has covered UFC, Pride, Bellator, Affliction, IFL, WFA, Strikeforce, WEC and K-1 live events. He believes deeply in the power of MMA to heal the world and bring happiness to all of its people.