Greg Hardy, the NFL's Next Nightmare

His domestic violence case dismissed, the league must decide how to discipline the man known as 'The Kraken'

Greg Hardy walks into the Mecklenburg County Courthouse in Charlotte, N.C on July 15, 2014. Credit: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT/Getty

Earlier this month, domestic violence charges against NFL defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed, after prosecutors claim his accuser essentially disappeared. It was an odd, anticlimactic ending to a story that made national headlines, and though the Pro Bowler's legal issues are behind him, he's not in the clear just yet: Hardy will still face judgment from the league. The season may be over, but it would seem the nightmare continues.

In essence, the NFL must decide how to punish Hardy, who was arrested May 13 and placed on the league's inactive roster in Week 2. A judge subsequently found him guilty of assaulting and threatening to kill former girlfriend Nicole Holder, though his attorneys appealed the decision. A new jury trial was set to begin February 9 until Holder became uncooperative (she reportedly received a civil settlement from Hardy), and the earlier conviction was vacated. Acting under the aegis of the new personal conduct policy, the NFL filed a legal motion to unseal evidence in the case, and will now make their own determination of what happened – and what the penalty against Hardy will be.

It will be the first test of the league's much-discussed conduct code, which was approved by owners in December and places disciplinary decisions in the hands of "a highly-qualified individual with a criminal justice background" (said individual has yet to be hired), so it stands to reason that the NFL will be looking to set a precedent. Given the public outcry that followed commissioner Roger Goodell's initial two-game suspension of Ray Rice, and all the public-relations nightmares that came after, they will not be lenient – yet this is certainly not a cut-and-dry case.

Because as clear things as seemed when Hardy was found guilty last July, the waters have only grown murkier since. There is the dismissal of all charges, the reported civil settlement and the initial decision of Mecklenburg District Judge Becky Thorne Tin, who noted that Hardy and Holder told wildly different versions of what happened in Hardy's Charlotte condominium on May 13. Now, the NFL must decide how much they believe Hardy, how much they believe Holder and how much they should change the course of Hardy's career – in yet another wrinkle, he's set to become an unrestricted free agent next month, and the competition for his services is expected to be fierce.

Regardless of his actual guilt, Hardy's association with a violent incident is enough to warrant a suspension, given the league's supposed deviation from a laissez-faire attitude regarding domestic violence. In other words, this is as much about the NFL's reputation as it his; act too weak, as they have for decades, and the league will be seen as an entity that hasn't learned anything from the Rice incident.

And despite all that, the NFL's decision will essentially come down to just two stories.

According to Holder, Hardy picked her up and slammed her into a bathtub, dragged her by her hair, pulled a necklace off her and choked her. Holder also said the 6-foot-4, 275-pound Hardy threw her on a futon that was covered in automatic weapons and let her know that the guns were loaded. In no uncertain terms, she said, Hardy threatened to kill her.

Holder's account of the incident, as well as eyewitness testimony that included one woman who took a picture of the gun-covered futon and another who heard Holder say, "What are you going to do, break my arm?" as the couple fought behind closed doors, was enough for Tin to find Hardy guilty of assault and communicating threats. He was sentenced to 18 months probation and a 60-day suspended jail sentence.

Not surprisingly, Hardy's recollection of the events is much different. He claimed Holder had thrown a punch at him, threatened to commit suicide and threw herself into the bathtub ("I don't fight," he said during testimony.) His attorney, Chris Fialko, painted the accuser as a jealous woman addicted to the fame that came with dating an NFL star. He pointed out that it was his client who had initially dialed 911 on May 13, after an intoxicated Holder refused to leave Hardy's apartment, and called witnesses to the stand that testified they saw her kick the door of Hardy's car after a dispute at a Charlotte entertainment complex a few days earlier.

There were also the unusual circumstances that surrounded the trial itself. In domestic-violence court, cases can often be argued and settled in a matter of minutes. According to The Charlotte Observer, Hardy's trial lasted 10 hours, with Tin pushing the case late into the night to avoid a backlog in her courtroom. It is plausible that given a full trial in front of a jury it could have been very difficult for 12 people to agree that Hardy was guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

We'll never know, and now the NFL will decide the matter. Even though Hardy has been cleared of all charges, he is still in likely violation of the personal conduct policy, which states: "All persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid 'conduct detrimental to the integrity and public confidence in the National Football League.'

"It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. Instead, as an employee of the NFL, you are held to a higher standard and expected to conduct yourself in a way that is responsible, promotes the values upon which the League is based, and is lawful," the policy continues. "Persons who fail to live up to this standard of conduct are guilty of conduct detrimental and subject to discipline, even where the conduct itself does not result in conviction of a crime."

Does all of that constitute overreach on a massive scale, or real-world justice being applied to a pastime? Depends on whom you ask. But know that, in Hardy's case, the NFL will not put any weight into his paid leave last season (He earned over $13 million and played in one game) and they know this decision will be a statement – going into last season, a standard suspension under these circumstances would have normally been zero-to-two games. But domestic violence, or the threat of domestic violence, won't be tolerated anymore. The problem is, the "facts" in this case are few and far between, and we're no closer to unearthing the truth.

That's what a trial is supposed to do. Now, it's up to the NFL. Going by the letter of their law, Hardy failed to live up to the league's "standard of conduct," and he will be punished and it will cost him millions of dollars. But that's beside the point. The NFL will act, and they will act swiftly. The allegations alone are not something they can afford to dismiss. That's what got them in this mess in the first place.