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11/09/2015 11:20 am ET Updated Dec 29, 2016

We Shouldn’t Have Needed Photos To Understand Greg Hardy’s Violence

Stephen A. Smith didn’t change his tune on Hardy until Deadspin’s report. That’s wrong.

Thanks to a Deadspin investigation that included photos of a bruised and beaten Nicole Holder, people are finally outraged by Greg Hardy's alleged domestic violence. Sportscasters are suddenly up in arms over the fact he's still on the Dallas Cowboys. The public is disgusted that a man could do such a thing. Players are calling the situation a joke

The problem is, most people weren't saying this kind of thing when the news first broke. Once again, it took visual evidence to generate outcry over domestic violence, and, in turn, pressure the powers that be to enact change. But it shouldn't have taken photos to get people mad anymore. People should understand domestic abuse without having it shoved in their faces. One man who understands just how powerful an image of violence can be said so on Sunday morning.

"It really shouldn't take photos or anything to understand the severity of domestic violence," Ray Rice said on "SportsCenter." "It does continue to raise awareness. It's just a tough deal that it takes a visual for the severity to be known. Condolences go out to the survivors of domestic violence."

Rice knows all about how the visualization of violence can shift perceptions. He is the NFL player most closely associated with domestic abuse, a man famous for knocking out his fiancée in an elevator. But Rice didn't see his football career fall apart until after TMZ leaked security footage of his dastardly act. That's when people took notice, and that's when the football community finally started taking domestic violence seriously. 

Hardy's story is now taking a similar turn. Prior to the release of the photos, which showed bruises and cuts across Holder's body, Hardy still had his defenders -- cheerleaders in his corner who doubted the veracity of Holder's allegations.

The Dallas Cowboys saw the police report from the night of Hardy's abuse and the court transcripts from his bench trial, which convicted him of assaulting Holder. But the team signed Hardy last offseason anyway, and then defiantly stood by their star pass rusher even after he showed zero remorse for his violence. (Hardy tweeted an apology of sorts on Saturday to "express regret for what happened in the past.")

Fellow NFL players had remained mum on Hardy, content to watch their union fight to reduce Hardy's initial 10-game suspension for beating Holder to 4 games. Last month, ESPN pundit Stephen A. Smith tweeted his support for the Cowboys' continued employment of Hardy. The story has changed now. After seeing the photos, Smith flip-flopped, calling for the Cowboys to cut Hardy on Sunday. Smith, a professional and influential journalist, shouldn't have needed photo evidence to inform his feelings about the Hardy situation. The evidence was already there. 

Across the spectrum, there are no he-said-she-said levels of doubt anymore, no callous "she's a gold digger" explanations of doubt. Just the photos, which visualize the story nobody wanted to read in the first place.  And for the first time, NFL players are openly sharing their disdain for Hardy. Philadelphia Eagles offensive lineman Jason Kelce, who faced off against Hardy in Dallas Sunday night, questioned why Hardy is allowed to play. 

There are three [types] of people I have zero respect for in this world,” Kelce said to Philly.com. “It’s people who hit women, people who molest children and rapists. I’m glad he didn’t have a good day and … I don’t know. I think it’s a joke a guy like that is able to play this quickly.”   

Kelce's criticisms lay squarely on the shoulders of the Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones. The Cowboys were asked on Friday if they had seen the photos of Holder before signing Hardy. They hadn't, despite the fact that the NFL had successfully sued North Carolina to access them. But they shouldn't have needed to. Photos and videos of abuse can educate the public, but they should not be used by organizations as a defense of their support for someone like Hardy. 

Jones is attempting to hide behind the same "photos or it didn't happen" argument used by so many anonymous Internet critics in recent months. But that's entirely unacceptable. NFL franchises, especially in 2015, should hold themselves to higher standards than Internet commenters. Using photos to inform the public is one thing, but citing the lack thereof to sign Hardy when there's a mountain of text-based evidence to draw from was willful and unacceptable ignorance. 

People like Jones and ESPN's Smith are professional, powerful men with vast influence. They shouldn't have needed to see the photos to know what domestic violence looks like. They should've known better.

Next time, let's hope they do.

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