WASHINGTON — Greg Hardy is back to playing professional football, but he is a long way from the NFL.
Hardy signed on with the Richmond Roughriders of the American Arena League, which is not to be confused with the Arena Football League, Indoor Football League or any other league that you may have heard of.
In an interview with the Richmond media, Hardy says all of the right things about being a rehabilitated soul:
The disgraced former Pro Bowler is less than four years removed from being found guilty by a judge of assaulting his ex-girlfriend. However, in North Carolina, it is possible to appeal the decision of a judge to a jury trial.
When Hardy’s trial began, the plaintiff refused to appear in court to testify, following a civil settlement. The prosecution dropped the case against Hardy, but he was still suspended for 10 games by the NFL.
This is his first professional football opportunity since burning bridges with his teammates and the front office as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in 2015. Even at this level, the timing of the move seems strange.
“I’ve seen too many success stories. I don’t see any difference in Greg Hardy,” said Gregg Fornario, the Roughriders’ owner and general manager. “We don’t condone what he did 3.5 years ago. We don’t condone any of his mistakes or choices during that time.
“At the same time, we’re all about giving a guy a platform and opportunity to make the right changes in his life.”
You almost have to appreciate the owner’s honesty in looking at Hardy’s situation.
“It’s almost punishment that he has to play in the arena league,” said Fornario. “He made a major mistake, and he’s trying to put that behind him. His mistakes have cost him a lot of money.
“What is he supposed to do? Work at the corner store? Pick up trash? No. I’m a big believer in second chances.”
Given the scrutiny received by a low-level indoor football team, it’s hard to imagine Hardy ever getting a chance to redeem himself at the NFL level. Then again, stranger things have happened and talent trumps most principles.
Hardy has been staying in shape by training and fighting in mixed martial arts. He’s a quick study, announcing his decision to start training in October 2016 and taking his first bout last November.
In three career MMA fights, Hardy’s opponents have not lasted through the first round, going down by TKO in 32, 96 and 14 seconds.
Hardy will be joined on the Roughriders by fellow former NFL player Malcolm Bunche, who appeared in training camp for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015 and Jacksonville Jaguars in 2017.
Before landing Hardy, the Roughriders’ ownership extended public offers to Colin Kaepernick and Johnny Manziel to come play quarterback for the team.