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Panthers DE Greg Hardy to start Sunday against the Lions, coach says 'It's a tough situation'

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CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Greg Hardy will start the Carolina Panthers' home opener Sunday against the Detroit Lions with no new developments in his domestic violence case.

Hardy missed practice Wednesday to meet with his attorney, but coach Ron Rivera announced the decision to start Hardy Friday after the defensive end practiced for a second straight day. The defensive end was convicted July 15 of assault on a female and communicating threats, but is appealing.

The team's franchise player, Hardy has not been suspended by the NFL or the Panthers despite his conviction following an altercation with his ex-girlfriend at his apartment in March.

The league has stated it is waiting to see what happens in a jury trial set for Nov. 17 in Charlotte.

Rivera acknowledged dealing with the Hardy situation — which has received added attention this week after Ray Rice was cut by the Baltimore Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL — has been a distraction to players.

"They want to talk about football," Rivera said. "They want to talk about who they're playing. They want to talk about themselves. They want to see their pictures in the paper doing good things. That is the truth of the matter. It's hard. It really is. As a coach you want your guys to focus in on what they have to do."

But Rivera said his team has handled the distractions well.

Rivera said what is hardest to deal with is the "perception" the Panthers don't care about the issue of domestic violence, which he said couldn't be further from the truth.

"We are trying to do things the right way," said Rivera, the NFL coach of the year last season.

Earlier this week Panthers owner Jerry Richardson broke down in tears when talking about domestic violence after receiving the Award Against Indifference from the Echo Foundation, a nonprofit education organization.

PHOTO: Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy waves to fans as he arrives for an NFL football practice in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Hardy has been convicted on two counts of domestic violence and is still playing. Though he has already been found guilty, the league is sticking by its policy to wait until the appeal process has been heard before making any decision on a possible suspension. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy waves to fans as he arrives for an NFL football practice in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Hardy has been convicted on two counts of domestic violence and is still playing. Though he has already been found guilty, the league is sticking by its policy to wait until the appeal process has been heard before making any decision on a possible suspension. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

"I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge an issue weighing heavily on our sport and our society," Richardson said Wednesday night in Charlotte. "When it comes to domestic violence, my stance is not one of indifference. I stand firmly against domestic violence, plain and simple. To those who would suggest that we've been too slow to act, I ask that you consider not to be too quick to judge. Over the course of our 20 years, we have worked extremely hard to build an organization of integrity."

Hardy was unavailable for interviews Friday. Rivera reemphasized the team is following the league's stance of waiting until the legal process is complete.

He was found guilty in a bench trial, but under criminal procedure in North Carolina, lawyers can appeal that ruling. That basically gives Hardy a new trial where he is considered innocent until proven guilty.

"It's a tough situation and a set of circumstances," Rivera said. "We are in a process, as we've said, and we are letting the process play out. ... We're not trying to do anything below board, we are trying to go through the process as we understand it. We are going to do the best we can."

There's a chance the jury trial may be pushed back to next year due the cases pending ahead of it in the legal system, Hardy's attorney Chris Fialko recently said.

By that time, Hardy may be an unrestricted free agent as his current one-year, $13.1 million contract expires after the season.

Rivera said in the meantime the focus is on football.

He said Hardy, who had four tackles and a sack in last week's 20-14 win over Tampa Bay, doesn't appeared distracted on the field.

"Greg gets on the practice field and he's full go," Rivera said. "He's full blast 100 percent. Football is football to him and he is focusing in on what needs to be done."

NOTES: Running back DeAngelo Williams missed his second straight day of practice with a thigh injury and is questionable. Jonathan Stewart will start if Williams can't play. ... Rivera listed Cam Newton (ribs) as probable, but said there's "no doubt" the quarterback will start after practicing all week. ... Tight end Greg Olsen is probable after leaving practice early Thursday to be with his 2-year-old son, T.J., who is battling heart problems. Rivera said the youngster is doing much better but didn't share any details. .. In other injury news, reserve offensive lineman Garry Williams (hip) and linebacker Jason Williams (thigh) are questionable for Sunday.


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PHOTO: Carolina Panthers' Greg Hardy smiles at fans as he arrives for an NFL football practice in Charlotte, N.C., Thursday, Sept. 11, 2014. Hardy has been convicted on two counts of domestic violence and is still playing. Though he has already been found guilty, the league is sticking by its policy to wait until the appeal process has been heard before making any decision on a possible suspension. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)
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