Where is the line?

They say seeing is believing, but why, in terms of domestic violence, does it take actual evidence to believe athletes have done something punishable?

Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy is the latest football player to have previous issues thrust back into the limelight because photographic evidence was released. He followed in the footsteps of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, both of which caused deafening public outcries after Rice’s elevator video made it onto the Internet and the images of Peterson’s son’s post-switch punishment began to circulate.

By now, football fans and casual observers have had time to hear about, view and form opinions on the bruised, jarring photos of Nicole Holder, Hardy’s on-again, off-again ex-girlfriend whom he allegedly physically abused and threatened.

You’ve seen the photos of Holder’s discolored back and the underside of her chin on Deadspin. You’ve read the police report in which she describes the assault, as well as Hardy’s alleged stalking and the overall fear for her life. The outrage has been palpable, but why did we need to see these images and hear Holder’s account for so many to accept that while Hardy is a good football player, he might also be a poor excuse for a man?

Holder’s resignation is perhaps the most telling detail of all. In the police reports from the night of the 2014 incident, Holder told Officer Jeffrey Kendrick, “It doesn’t matter; nothing is going to happen to him anyways.”

She was right, kind of.

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After Hardy was found guilty of assaulting a female and communicating threats in a North Carolina court — charges that were later expunged after the verdict was dismissed on appeal when Holder reportedly chose not to cooperate with prosecutors — the case was left to the NFL. Commissioner Roger Goodell, who saw the photos, eventually suspended Hardy for 10 games — in addition to the ostensible 15-game paid suspension Hardy received when he was on the Commissioner’s exempt list during the 2014 season. However, due to the lobbying of the NFL Players Association on his behalf, the 10-game ban was reduced to four games. Hardy made his debut with the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5 against the New England Patriots — “energizing the pass-rush,” as described by the Cowboys’ official site.

Holder’s fears ultimately came true. Hardy sat out his punishment and then made it back onto the football field, where he was embraced by fans, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and certain media members who believed the defensive end should be given a second chance. It was business as usual for the player who, despite being suspended for domestic violence, found his way onto another roster.

Jones claims he hadn’t seen the photos of Holder when he chose to sign Hardy but said he believed Hardy deserved a second chance. The public relations hit Hardy brought with him didn’t seem to matter, nor did the character concerns that could be traced back to Hardy’s collegiate career. As long as he helped the Cowboys get wins (Dallas is 0-4 with Hardy), then he was going to get a spot on the team.

Ahead of Hardy’s season debut, many applauded FOX Sports analyst Katie Nolan for her stance against Hardy following his first public comments after the suspension. Hardy was smug, he was confident and he was back to disrespecting women, all before he stepped foot on the field for his first game. It seemed the four games did little to force Hardy to change his ways. Nolan’s video went viral as social-media users stood behind her and agreed that the Cowboys were crossing a line by allowing Hardy on the field. But what came of it? Not much.

After Deadspin’s report, Hardy offered a quasi-apology via Twitter, expressing regret for his past actions. Hardy said he was “Dedicated to being the best person & teammate that I can be,” but on Wednesday, he altered his Twitter profile to proclaim his innocence. “Innocent until proven guilty-lack of knowledge & information is just ignorance-the unjust/prejudicial treatment of diff categories of people is discrimination,” Hardy wrote. One week after making his Cowboys debut, Hardy got into scuffles with teammates and a coach on the sideline during a game against the New York Giants. After the game, Jones labeled Hardy a “real leader.”

In a society filled by a constant stream of information, and where seeing means believing, it’s important to still take certain things at face value. When a man is found guilty of beating a woman and threatening that woman’s life, we shouldn’t need pictures to make us believe that he’s bad. We shouldn’t brush the accusations aside because he wears the jersey of our favorite football team.

Not everyone deserves a second chance. Hardy proved he didn’t even before Holder’s photos were released and opinions about him changed. What’s going to stop him now? He’s on a team, and until the public makes a change in the way athletes are held accountable for their actions, until we accept that not every athlete is worth our time, then those that aren’t will continue to coast through and weather the brief backlash.

Hardy isn’t a real leader, and it shouldn’t take photographic evidence to make us feel that way.

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