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NFL star Greg Hardy benched amid uproar over domestic violence

By Steve Almasy and Kevin Conlon, CNN
updated 7:09 PM EDT, Sun September 14, 2014
  • NEW: Carolina Panthers coach says team "will get it right"
  • Greg Hardy was convicted of domestic violence but has appealed, saying he is innocent
  • Ray Rice was suspended indefinitely after video emerged of him punching now-wife
  • Neither Rice nor Vikings' Adrian Peterson has faced trial, but they've been benched

(CNN) -- Carolina Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted of domestic violence this summer, did not play Sunday in his team's win over the Detroit Lions.

The news comes amid increased focus on the National Football League and the way it handles players accused of domestic violence.

Until the team's surprising announcement just before game time, Hardy was set to play Sunday. Ray Rice, recently released by the Baltimore Ravens, and Minnesota Vikings star Adrian Peterson won't play either.

Peterson was placed on the inactive list late last week after he was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on a child abuse charge. He tweeted a photo on Sunday of a highlighted religious devotion that cautions people against passing judgment.

Rice, meanwhile, might never play again, since the NFL suspended him indefinitely after a video was posted online that showed him punching out his now-wife in February.

'Zero applause for the Panthers'

Authorities say Hardy in May choked his then-girlfriend, threw her around, dragged her by her hair and threatened to kill her. He was sentenced in July to 18 months of probation and a 60-day suspended sentence for the misdemeanors with which he was charged.

The 6-foot-4, 275 pound defensive end says he is innocent and has appealed a guilty verdict rendered by a Mecklenburg County judge in North Carolina.

Critics had wondered how Rice could be suspended while Hardy had not. Even after the Panthers deactivated him Sunday, it was too little too late for some.

"Zero applause for the Panthers," Sports Illustrated's Richard Deitsch tweeted. "They ceded to press/public pressure. It was disgrace it took this long."

'Climate has changed'

The Panthers drew heated criticism over its handling of Hardy even while speaking out against domestic violence. Owner Jerry Richardson, while accepting a civic award last week, began to cry while speaking about domestic violence.

"When it comes to domestic violence, my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple," he told the audience in Charlotte. "To those who would suggest we've been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge."

Although he did not mention the words "domestic violence" in his post-game remarks, Panthers coach Ron Rivera obliquely acknowledged the controversy looming over not just Hardy, but over the entire league.

"The climate has changed," he said. "We really do have to get this right. Believe me. I understand that"

Harsher penalties for domestic violence

In the wake of the Ray Rice incident, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced more severe punishment guidelines to the NFL's personal conduct policy.

According to an August 28 memo sent by Goodell to all 32 teams, anyone in the league -- players or team personnel -- will be suspended for a minimum of six games for a first offense of domestic violence. Players are granted the opportunity to appeal. Ray Rice has until midnight Tuesday to file his appeal, if he chooses to do so.

What's not clear is whether the NFL would apply these new guidelines retroactively, which is perhaps one explanation as to why Hardy -- sentenced a month before Goodell's memo -- has not yet been dealt with by the NFL. Another explanation could be that the league is waiting for the legal process to play itself out. Hardy has another trial scheduled for November.

CNN reached out to the NFL Sunday but had not immediately heard back.

Meanwhile, Hardy will continue be paid while he is on the inactive list.

CNN's Jill Martin contributed to this story.

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