Court Blocks NFL’s Suspension of Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

Posted on: September 9, 2017, 10:50h. 

Last updated on: September 9, 2017, 10:50h.

The Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott will suit up when his team hosts the New York Giants on Sunday night, after a federal judge in the Eastern District of Texas granted his request on Friday for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the NFL’s six-game suspension.

Ezekiel Elliott suspension
A federal court ruled that the NFL could not suspend Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott on allegations of domestic violence without a fair hearing, and granted a temporary restraining order on his mandatory six-game suspension, allowing the star running back to take the field as the 2017 season kicks off. (Image: Sporting News)

The 22-year-old star running back’s lawyers and the NFL Players Association took the unusual step of taking matters to court after the league rejected Ezekiel’s appeal of an automatic suspension on accusations of domestic violence.

Elliot’s attorneys now will seek a preliminary injunction next month that if granted, could allow Elliott to play the entire 2017 season while the case runs its course through the courts.

“Based upon the preliminary injunction standard, the Court finds, that Elliott did not receive a fundamentally fair hearing, necessitating the Court grants the request for preliminary injunction,” US District Judge Amos Mazzant wrote.

Elliot was suspended in August after the NFL investigated allegations from July 2016 that he physically abused his then-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson on five separate occasions. Dallas prosecutors declined to press charges.

In accordance with an NFL policy enacted in 2014, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a mandatory six-game suspension without pay on a first offense of domestic violence. A second offense would result in a lifetime ban.

Ezekiel appealed the suspension, which sent the case to Harold Henderson, an arbitrator hired by the NFL. He concluded on Tuesday that Commissioner Goodell’s decision was fair.

Personal Conduct Codes Revisited

NFL officials conducted a nearly yearlong investigation and concluded that Elliott had been violent towards his then-girlfriend over a five-day period in July 2016.

They announced the findings and the suspension on Aug. 11, which immediately put Elliot’s season in doubt. The original suspension was supposed to begin Sept. 2, so Elliot still was able to participate in preseason training.

“Here the process for imposing discipline outlined in the [Personal Conduct] Policy has been followed closely, step by step,” Henderson wrote in his ruling.

“I find it unnecessary to re-examine all the evidence presented in this record because my careful and diligent review of everything the Commissioner reviewed and relied on draws me to the conclusion that the record contains sufficient credible evidence to support whatever determinations he made.”

Challenging Policy Enforcement

Elliott denied any wrongdoing and his attorneys pointed out several inconsistencies. The first was the credibility of the accuser, who was found to have texted a friend asking her to lie if the police asked about what happened. “If they ask, he dragged me out of my car,” she wrote.

The police did not arrest Elliott though they had the opportunity to do so on two separate occasions. The prosecutor assigned the case said there was “conflicting and inconsistent information” and decided not to charge him.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been publicly supportive of Elliott, saying repeatedly he believes there is no evidence Elliott is guilty of domestic violence and that a suspension is not warranted.

It’s a challenging issue. On one hand, the league is getting tough on domestic violence. On the other hand, the policy leaves players with limited recourse for challenging their accusers. And that ultimately seemed to be the key behind Judge Mazzant’s decision.

“Fundamental unfairness is present throughout the entire arbitration process,” the judge wrote. “The NFLPA was not given the opportunity to discharge its burden to show that Goodell’s decision was arbitrary and capricious. At every turn, Elliott and the NFLPA were denied the evidence or witnesses needed to meet their burden. Fundamental unfairness infected this case from the beginning, eventually killing any possibility that justice would be served. Accordingly, the Court finds that the NFLPA demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits.”