STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
The NFL says another high-profile football player is sitting out because of legal issues. You know about Ray Rice by now - suspended indefinitely after a video showed him assaulting his fiancee in an elevator. Then there's running back Adrian Peterson who will not play because of child abuse case. And now the Carolina Panthers say defensive end Greg Hardy will not play until his domestic violence case is resolved. From member station WFAE in Charlotte, Michael Tomsic reports.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Bring them in, let's go.
MICHAEL TOMSIC, BYLINE: At the Carolina Panthers' practice in Charlotte yesterday, the players huddled up before splitting into offensive and defensive drills.
The defense was missing one of its best players - Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy. Panthers General Manager Dave Gettleman announced why later that afternoon.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
DAVE GETTLEMAN: Following discussions that involved Greg, his representatives, the NFL, the NFLPA and obviously the Panthers, Greg's decided to take a voluntary leave with pay until his legal proceedings are resolved.
TOMSIC: It's one of several cases involving NFL players that have come under increased public scrutiny. Hardy is scheduled for a jury trial in November on domestic violence charges. Until then, some Panthers fans say he should be able to play even though a judge already found him guilty in a bench trial. Outside practice, Charlene Clarke said she's withholding judgment.
CHARLENE CLARKE: Just from hearing the 911 tapes, I feel he did something in self-defense - is what it sounds like to me 'cause why are you going to beat the crap out of somebody and then call 911?
TOMSIC: There are conflicting 911 calls from the dispute in May between Hardy and his ex-girlfriend Nicole Holder. Hardy called police and said Holder was attacking him.
(SOUDNBITE OF 911 CALL)
GREG HARDY: She's trying to hit me with another shoe. I am behind the bar. I'm not touching her. My manager is restraining her.
TOMSIC: Another 911 call paints a very different picture. Christina Lawrence called to say she was in the apartment, and Hardy was beating Holder.
(SOUDNBITE OF 911 CALL)
CHRISTINA LAWRENCE: We need the police here now before this girl gets seriously hurt, now.
TOMSIC: Lawrence was an important part of the bench trial in July, in which Holder testified that Hardy choked her, dragged her by her hair from a bathtub and threw her onto a futon with several guns on it. A county judge convicted Hardy of misdemeanor assault and threatening Holder. The judge stated Hardy's sentence as he appealed for jury trial. Charlotte School of Law professor Christopher Woodyard says the way that works here...
CHRISTOPHER WOODYARD: Everything that took place in the first trial is essentially wiped out. It'll be a complete brand-new trial before a brand-new fact finder.
TOMSIC: In between the conviction and the jury trial, the NFL season began, and Hardy played in the Panthers' first game. Then last week, a video surfaced of Baltimore Raven Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancee. That drew attention to way the league is handling other abuse cases. Amid the outrage that followed, Panthers coach Ron Rivera declared Hardy inactive for the team's second game.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
RON RIVERA: The climate changed, and I had to make a decision on Sunday that I believe was prudent.
TOMSIC: That's Rivera at yesterday's press conference. Hardy joins the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson on the NFL's exempt list - a previously rare designation that's happened twice this week. Peterson has been indicted for child abuse.
TOMSIC: In the Panthers' locker room before the announcement, many players said they're just concentrating on football. Kony Ealy is a defensive end.
KONY EALY: Everybody's just really focused and keyed-in on doing their job, you know?
TOMSIC: When General Manager Dave Gettleman was asked what it meant to lose a player of Hardy's caliber, Gettleman said the bigger thing right now is the issue of domestic violence.
GETTLEMAN: He's an outstanding player obviously and it is disappointing. But he's got to get this - we have to get this right. He has to get this right.
TOMSIC: In the meantime, Hardy will still get paid his $13-million salary. For NPR News, I'm Michael Tomsic in Charlotte. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.