(Reuters) - The NFL’s Carolina Panthers deactivated defensive end Greg Hardy for Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions, according to the team’s website, in a reversal of an earlier decision to let him play while he appeals a domestic violence conviction.
The move comes after a week of fierce criticism over the National Football League’s handling of a domestic violence case involving three-time Pro Bowler Ray Rice. The episode has raised questions about the league’s credibility and prompted calls for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to step down, while rekindling a national discussion about the abuse of women.
The Panthers listed Hardy as inactive about two hours before the team’s home opener against the Lions. It offered no reason, and officials of the team could not be reached immediately for comment. As late as Friday, the team indicated Hardy, who was found guilty by a judge of assaulting his former girlfriend, would continue to play while he was appealing.
Adding to the league’s embarrassment, Minnesota Vikings’ star running back Adrian Peterson was arrested on Saturday and charged with injuring a child after using a switch to spank his son, his lawyer said. The Vikings deactivated Peterson on Friday immediately after the allegations surfaced.
“We started the week with players beating up women. We ended the week with players beating up children,” retired NFL player Tom Jackson said on Sunday during ESPN’s “Sunday NFL Countdown.” “We are in a very serious state in the National Football League.”
Before the Vikings’ home game against the New England Patriots, some fans at TCF Bank Stadium in Minneapolis wearing Peterson jerseys in a show of support for the star running back.
Hardy’s deactivation renewed questions over whether the San Francisco 49rs would still allow defensive end Ray McDonald to play in a Sunday night game against Chicago.
McDonald was arrested Aug. 31 on suspicion of causing physical injuries to his fiance at his home. The team said early last week he would play on Sunday while authorities investigate his case and decide whether to charge him.
Before Sunday’s action began, the issue of domestic violence by NFL players and the league’s policies for dealing with it largely overshadowed the typical pre-game banter about the afternoon’s matchups.
In discussing the incident, NFL analyst Ray Lewis, a former Baltimore teammate of Rice, sounded a personal note about the pain of domestic abuse.
“What Ray Rice did was inexcusable,” Lewis said on ESPN. “If I was to close my eyes, one thing I remember vividly was my mom being beaten. But the one thing I also remember is not one of the men who beat my mom was in the National Football League.”
Lewis said he was concerned that NFL players were being branded unfairly, because domestic violence was widespread.
“This is not a football problem. This is a world problem. Every nine seconds a woman is being brutally beaten. It bothers me a little bit when we’re the focus of this attention.”
A women’s rights group called UltraViolet said it planned to fly banners over four pro football stadiums on Sunday and on Monday night calling on Goodell to resign over his handling of Rice’s case.
Fans at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, said they saw the banner reading #GoodellMustGo being dragged overhead by a small plane as the New York Giants hosted the Phoenix Cardinals, according to tweets. At least one fan tweeted a photo of the banner in the sky near the stadium.
“It is time for Roger Goodell to resign, and for the NFL to get serious about its commitment to ending violence against women within the league,” UltraViolet co-founder Nita Chaudhary said in a written statement.
Goodell, the NFL commissioner since 2006, admitted he “didn’t get it right” when initially punishing Rice with a two-game suspension. He suspended Rice indefinitely on Monday after a video surfaced showing the player knocking out his girlfriend in an elevator in a New Jersey casino.
Goodell has said the league had not seen the graphic video previously but his denial has not quieted critics who have questioned what the league knew about the video and when it first viewed it.
Reporting by Kevin Murphy in Kansas City, Missouri; Editing by Andrea Ricci and Eric Walsh