NEW: Greg Hardy says he needs to focus on legal defense
Hardy was convicted by a judge in July of misdemeanor charges in a domestic violence case
The Panthers' defensive star will take leave as he prepares for a jury trial
Authorities allege Hardy assaulted, threatened to kill his then-girlfriend
Carolina Panthers star defensive end Greg Hardy, who has been granted a new trial this fall after a domestic violence conviction in July, has taken a voluntary leave with pay until his legal matters are resolved, the team announced Wednesday.
“We understand Greg’s decision,” Panthers general manager Dave Gettleman told reporters. “And given the circumstances, it’s very important that he concentrate on his legal issues. We believe this is the right course of action at this time for both Greg and the Carolina Panthers.”
Authorities say Hardy in May choked his then-girlfriend, threw her around, dragged her by her hair and threatened to kill her. He was sentenced in July to 18 months of probation and a 60-day suspended sentence for the misdemeanors with which he was charged.
The 6-foot-4, 275 pound defensive end says he is innocent and has appealed a guilty verdict rendered by a Mecklenburg County judge in North Carolina. He was granted a jury trial that is scheduled for mid-November.
“I understand that I need to step away from football right now and take care of this legal matter. I am entitled to due process and my day in court, and that’s where my focus should be,” Hardy said in a statement released by the team. “I appreciate the Panthers for giving me this opportunity and look forward to being back with my teammates as soon as possible. “
Gettleman said that Hardy will be placed on the NFL’s exempt/commissioner’s permission list, which allows in special circumstances for players to be paid while on leave. He can still use the team’s facilities but cannot attend practice.
The players’ union said it worked with the league, the Carolina Panthers and Hardy on the matter.
“We support this decision and hope the best for him and his family,” the NFL Players Association said in a written statement.
Hardy, who led the team last season with 15 sacks and was a Pro Bowl selection, missed Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions after the team placed on the inactive list. He played in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had four tackles.
CNN’s Drew Iden contributed to this report.