Like it or not, sports are a business. Whether you prefer the highest, professional levels of competition like the NFL, NBA or NHL to collegiate or high school play is irrelevant. At the end of the day someone is out there to make a living. Nowhere is this cash-driven mentality more apparent than the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry that is the National Football League.

The NFL has had more than it’s fair share of scandals over the past year, highlighted by the league-wide fiasco that resulted from Ray Rice beating his fiancée Janay Palmer in a hotel elevator. Given how poorly Commissioner Roger Goodell handled the Rice scandal in one of the NFL’s most tumultuous off-seasons in years, one might think that the league and its teams would aim to take the moral high ground in the future. Apparently nobody told Jerry Jones and the Dallas Cowboys front office.

Following his release from the Carolina Panthers, Dallas took advantage of the NFL’s free agent signing period to ink Pro Bowl defensive end Greg Hardy to a one-year $11.3 million contract, according to ESPN. While this seems like a shrewd move that allows Dallas to pick up one of the league’s most talented defensive players, Greg Hardy was convicted of assaulting his girlfriend just months prior to the Dallas signing. In fact, the conviction was the main reason Hardy was on the market to begin with. In fairness to Hardy, the state’s case against
him was dismissed after an appeal. However, that appeal failed to raise any new evidence that would support Hardy’s side of the story. It merely resulted in a dismissal because his accuser, former girlfriend Nicole Holder, failed to show up to the appeal hearing.

While we can speculate on case specifics till red-faced and flustered, one thing is true: Greg Hardy was, based upon evidence and within a court of law, convicted of domestic violence. That much should be enough for any NFL team to stay as far away from him as possible.

Ultimately, team owner Jerry Jones and the Cowboys made a fundamental mistake. They placed winning on the field ahead of very basic ethical obligations. Hardy is a tremendous blight upon an already troubled NFL. Teams should have blacklisted him. Several, like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, did just that. Jones, however, in a furious push for a title, gave the green light to sign a player who should probably never have set foot on an NFL field again.

Jones’s daughter, Charlotte Anderson, who serves as the Cowboys’ executive vice president, defended the signing. Anderson stated that “we [the Cowboys] don’t believe in throwing people away,” according to Sports Illustrated, and that “the experts have told us that it’s better to provide a way out.” What Anderson’s statement tells us is disturbing: Given all the speculation surrounding the case, the Cowboys — or at least their executive VP — clearly believe that Greg Hardy committed the crimes he is accused of and don’t care enough to avoid him altogether.

The issue with Dallas signing Hardy isn’t limited just to the NFL, however; it reflects a frightening mentality both in the sports world and in the business world at large. The idea of putting business ahead of ethics reflects poorly on everyone involved. While business owners like Jerry Jones have a responsibility to do everything in their power to pursue excellence on the field, there comes a point where that success is no longer worth the moral price tag that comes with it. Selling your integrity for a shot at a championship isn’t just wrong; it’s insulting to your entire fan base. Assuming football fans — myself included — won’t notice or won’t care is simply an affront to our intelligence.

Those defending Hardy and the Cowboys need to see the bigger picture here: If situations like this continue to arise, the NFL will go beyond merely alienating female fans — it won’t have any left. For owners and league leadership to preach endlessly about giving back to communities, players being role models and the integrity of their organization while allowing players like Greg Hardy, Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice to continue their NFL careers is simply hypocrisy.

Situations like this Hardy’s make it harder to be an NFL fan. How am I supposed to balance having a sister, girlfriend and mother with supporting a league that simply doesn’t care about women? Like many other sports fans, I love football and I’m happy to get up and cheer for my favorite team, but nobody should have to question their own moral compass every time they switch on the TV on Sundays.

While it is impossible to expect the NFL to be a perfect bastion of morality, it is more than fair to expect the league and its teams to exhibit some form of self-discipline. Were Hardy employed by any organization other than the NFL, he would be out of a job right now. While one cannot, and should not, fault the NFL and its 32 teams for operating like businesses, it is reprehensible to put business before doing what’s right. Discussion like this isn’t preaching from an ivory tower; it’s bringing attention to an issue that has no place on our sports fields, at our schools, in our businesses or at home. There is no excuse for domestic abuse, and there’s no excuse for organizations like the Dallas Cowboys and the National Football League to normalize this sort of violence. Maybe Hardy, Rice and Peterson, among others, do deserve second chances, maybe expecting a long term punishment is unfair, but all we’re doing by letting these men off the hook is making excuses. Hardy and his ilk deserve to never play another down in the NFL. There shouldn’t be a second shot when it comes to abuse, especially in a league where these players are idealized as role models by young fans. As players these men represent the organizations they are a part of, and ultimately the NFL as a whole. Unfortunately, the league seems just fine with that.