ESPN has boxed itself into a strange corner this week, which is what it deserves for giving Greg Hardy a massive platform from which to speak when it's unclear why he should get one.
Hardy is the NFL defensive lineman who was accused in 2014 of terrible crimes against his then-girlfriend, including bruising her by throwing her in a bathroom, threatening to kill her and throwing her onto a couch filled with assault weapons. He missed much of the 2014 season as a result, and was suspended for 10 games (reduced later to four) in 2015, when he left Carolina and played for Dallas.
He's now a free agent looking for a new contract. Few people cared about or were talking about Hardy until earlier this week, when ESPN's Adam Schefter sat down with him for an exclusive interview. If the motivation on Hardy's part was to paint himself in a sympathetic or redeemed light, he failed miserably. And if ESPN was hoping to generate positive buzz from an exclusive interview, it failed miserably as well.
Hardy told Schefter, "I've never put my hand on any woman." When pressed on it a little, including a reminder of photographs that showed bruises on his ex-girlfriend, Hardy said this: "Pictures are pictures, and they can be made to look like whatever they want to. I didn't say I didn't do anything wrong. That situation occurred and that situation was handled, but as a man you can't avoid situations that aren't your fault or are your fault."
This is the very opposite of someone who has accepted blame for what looks to be a terrible incident. So that's quite problematic. Also problematic was Schefter's subsequent appearance on "The Dan Patrick Show," in which he said he thought Hardy was "a changed kind of guy."
Hardy and ESPN are getting blasted on both fronts from a lot of angles — the most interesting being from ESPN employees.
The most frontal was ESPN's Michelle Beadle, who said Tuesday on SportsNation: "I feel dirty in that this guy has no job right now, and for some reason we've decided as a network that we're going to give him the stage for his redemption tour as he basically goes out and tries to find some employment." On Twitter, she also strongly challenged Schefter's assertion that Hardy has changed.
ESPN's "Mike and Mike" program gave the situation a thorough dissection on Wednesday, making it quite clear that neither believed Hardy had really changed based on the interview — an exchange a listener could construe as at least a sideways swipe at Schefter.
Normally when ESPN is able to turn one piece of content into multiple pieces of content across many platforms, it works out as an exponential victory for the Worldwide Leader. In this case, though, there is no synergy — just negative energy. The conclusion here is this: ESPN has failed at every turn of this story, and it is getting what it deserves in the fallout.