New York Giants fans may not care whether the upholding of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension is unfair, while Dallas Cowboys fans obviously feel there’s injustice abound. But there’s one person who may feel it’s of the utmost unfair to – Elliott himself.
The six-game suspension doled out by Commissioner Roger Goodell was upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson, yesterday, and it immediately set off a social media firestorm – both pro and con decision.
When the National Football League reasoned it was “unfair” to keep Elliott from playing in Sunday night’s opener, because Henderson’s ruling came after a 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time deadline – the same Sunday Night Football primetime telecast that Goodell and the league hope is a ratings bonanza – something smelled afoul for Elliott and Cowboys’ fans. Since Henderson’s ruling, cynics have wondered why the league was so magnanimous in allowing Elliott — one of the league’s star attractions — to play in Week 1 against one of the league’s blue bloods and a divisional rival, but then be suspended for the six games.
Henderson’s ruling sent shockwaves throughout the football world, but also opened up many more questions as to the advantages the league has over players, even when the court of law clears that person of charges.
However this shakes out, this saga will most certainly follow Elliott, 22, throughout his career. And while many believe he had a big part in these transgressions by putting himself in such precarious predicaments in the first place, he’ll still have to deal with the stigma of all that surrounded him.
The suspension always seemed suspect to Elliott and those who support him, particularly the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA), who preemptively sued, last week, to block any potential discipline against Elliott, alleging in a United States District Court filing that the league’s handling of the appeal process has been “fundamentally unfair.” This came to a head because Elliott was never arrested or charged with a crime and has always vigorously denied the allegations.
Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio decided about a year ago not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State University, but the NFL kept the investigation open. The league said its conclusions were based on photographs, text messages, and other electronic evidence and provided sufficient evidence towards Elliott’s then-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson’s claims. Goodell then determined Elliott’s actions violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy. And under the league’s collective bargaining agreement (CBA), the commissioner has far-reaching authority to discipline players regardless of whether they were charged with a crime.
Judge, jury, and executioner.
This has never sat well with players, the NFLPA, and fans alike, as even when past rulings have been contested, critics say Goodell still has many aces in the hole – such as Henderson, who is the former NFL Executive Vice-President for Labor Relations, who functioned as an arbitrator in reviewing the testimony and evidence connected to Thompson’s domestic violence claims against Elliott.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy was amended three years ago to stiffen penalties in domestic cases. And NFL special counsel Lisa Friel was hired as a result of the changes, which came after the league was harshly criticized for its handling of a case involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
The NFLPA’s lawsuit says Kia Roberts, the co-lead investigator, prepared a document detailing inconsistencies in the accounts of Thompson, who the suit said was interviewed six times by Roberts. And that Roberts recommended to league officials that Elliott not receive a suspension. Later, Roberts was supposedly barred from the meeting in which Friel pushed for a six-game suspension.
The lawsuit, filed in a Texas federal court, accuses the NFL of unfair practices because Henderson denied a request to have Thompson testify at a hearing. It was also claimed that NFL executives hid information that was favorable to Elliott before Goodell imposed the punishment on August 11.
All of this is to showcase critic’s feelings that Goodell’s judgments and practices are far-too slanted in favor of himself and the league.
Elliott’s temporary restraining order (TRO) is a long shot in hopes of saving him and staving off the suspension. If granted, an injunction would likely allow Elliott to continue playing until a final court ruling on the suspension can be reached. It’s rare for a judge to grant a TRO and step on the toes of an arbitration ruling, but there are some legal insiders who believe an injunction has a prayer’s chance — although it’s still a long shot. A TRO is considered an extraordinary form of relief for a reason, which is why petitions for them are usually denied. Neither the CBA’s nor NFL’s case precedent helps Elliott, and it’s no coincidence the disciplinarian portion of the CBA is worded favorably for the NFL – which is also how the league eventually won their battle against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who ultimately served a four-game suspension.
Should the miracle happen on Friday, the league will almost certainly and immediately appeal, and the same should be expected of Elliott’s team.
And when that happens, all parties will be right back where they started from prior to Henderson’s ruling.