For decades, the Dallas Cowboys have affectionately been known as "America's Team," but this NFL season they may have earned a reputation for something far more unsavory: harboring domestic abusers.
The firestorm for the Cowboys began in March, when the team chose to sign a one-year deal with controversial defensive end Greg Hardy, who was convicted in 2014 on two counts of domestic violence against an ex-girlfriend. Hardy appealed, and the charges were dropped when the victim refused to cooperate with prosecutors after reportedly receiving a settlement. Since he joined the Cowboys roster, following a four-game suspension imposed by the league, Hardy has routinely been a lightning rod. He's been criticized for not showing enough contrition, making sexist overtures toward Tom Brady's wife, and getting into physical clashes with teammates and coaches on the sidelines.
Earlier this month, graphic photos of the injuries sustained by Hardy's ex-girlfriend in the domestic violence incident were released to the public, which alongside the already published police report, served as further indication to some that the Cowboys defensive end does not belong in the NFL.
In the midst of the uproar, the Cowboys' flamboyant owner, Jerry Jones, has stuck by Hardy, calling him a "leader" on the team, a remark that raised even more hackles from critics. Jones has since walked back some of his praise for the polarizing defensive end, but in some circles the damage to the Cowboys franchise has already been done.
One Houston Chronicle writer has gone so far as to call for a boycott of the team. In a Nov. 18 column where he refers to Jones as "arrogant, brazen and selfish," Michael Brick calls out the Cowboys franchise for not just signing Hardy but their support for their star wide receiver Dez Bryant, following allegations that he once assaulted his own mother.
"We do not have to give Hardy a second chance. And we should not. One chance is all anyone needs to not hit a woman," Brick wrote.
Meanwhile, Dorothy Newton, the ex-wife of former Cowboys lineman Nate Newton, has come forward to allege that the Cowboys organization has a history of coddling abusers. Newton, who has written a memoir about her ordeal, told Sports Illustrated in a recent interview that the team was aware of "verbal" and "physical" abuse her ex-husband inflicted on her in the 1990s.
Newton claims that after seeking out information on shelters and resources through a friend in the aftermath of an assault, word got to the organization and then to her ex, leading to the "worst violence" that she ever experience during their relationship.
"I have great friendships within the Cowboys organization. I had a relationship with Jerry Jones and his family during our 14 years [with the team]. It was great relationships," said Newton. "I will tell you I am very disappointed, disheartened and discouraged about what's happening. The things that [Jones] is saying, I am just shocked because I believed that he wanted to create awareness, he wanted to educate, provide resources."
In September 2014, at the height of the controversy surrounding domestic abuse allegations against former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, Jones called spousal abuse "intolerable." MSNBC has reached out to the Cowboys to get a response to the Newton allegations, but has not heard back at this time. At a post-game press conference on Nov. 9, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said: "We as an organization, we don’t condone domestic violence ... We take the issue very, very seriously."
"We knew when we signed Greg Hardy there would be some criticism that came with that. We laid out expectations for Greg right from the start. We decided that we were going to give him a second chance, but in doing so, the expectations and the standards that we set would be very clear to him -- how he, and really everybody else, is supposed to conduct themselves on the football field and off the football field," Garrett added.
Presumably, the main motivation for signing Hardy was his potential impact on the football field. Despite his off-the-field problems, most experts consider him one of the NFL's premier pass rushers. However, the Cowboys have lost every game he's started this season (albeit with their franchise quarterback sidelined due to injury), which has led some to question whether the risk of signing Hardy was worth it.
At the very least, Hardy has added a target on the Cowboys' backs. Lane Johnson, a lineman for the team's division rival Philadelphia Eagles, recently admitted to being more aggressive on the football field with Hardy, in light of his record with women. "Any time I had a chance to put a little extra mustard on a block, I tried," he told the Philadelphia Daily News.
"Three people I have zero respect for in this world," Eagles' center Jason Kelce added. "People who hit women, who molest children, and rapists." In the meantime, the NFL has no legal recourse to suspend Hardy again unless new evidence of illegal or inappropriate behavior comes to light.