NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the six-game suspension of Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott late on Tuesday with one major caveat: Elliott will be allowed to play in the Dallas Cowboys season opener against the New York Giants, apparently because the ruling came down too late to enact the suspension this week.
Elliott has been facing the specter of suspension all summer long after the NFL conducted more than a year’s worth of investigation into allegations that Ezekiel Elliott committed acts of domestic violence against his girlfriend.
Elliott was never arrested or charged with any domestic violence, however. Police and the District Attorney’s office in Columbus, Oh, found that the accuser had been lying about the allegations aimed at Elliott. They found text messages from her to a friend asking that friend to lie and help her frame Elliott for cuts and bruises the woman sustained during a bar fight with another woman.
Police and District Attorney investigators uncovered other plots as well involving the woman’s attempts at getting financial gain from Elliott’s impending status as an NFL player. All of the allegations in the case took place before Ezekiel Elliott played a single NFL game.
The NFL seems to be using its own past embarrassments when dealing with cases of domestic abuse as a stick with which to hit Elliott. Even in the most dire circumstance of guilt, there still is no rhyme or reason to the six-game suspension. I mean, why six games specifically? And how did he besmirch the name of the NFL by not being arrested or charged?
Playing devil’s advocate doesn’t even help bring logic to the NFL decision. Even if Elliott were guilty, he only received two more games in suspension for committing violence against a woman than Tom Brady got for some stupid shenanigans like deflating footballs. There’s only two games of distance in punishment between deflating balls and beating your girlfriend?
There is no good way to talk about domestic violence. It is one of the ugliest things in our society. Family members being victimized, traumatized and brutalized at the hands of other family members or significant others is one of the worst things a human being can experience or witness.
We are supposed to be safe at home, safe on dates, safe with our loved ones. But for many in relationships or families the shelter of home has been violated by domestic violence. This violence transcends class, race, gender or sexual preference. It even happens in the lives of our star athletes.
In recent years the NFL has been confronted with the issue of domestic violence like never before. Social media and the ability to record candid video has changed the game in a variety of arenas like police brutality. Domestic violence has also been one of those arenas. The viciousness of attacks can be captured in high definition.
A few years ago, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was the subject of domestic violence accusations. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell at that time was way behind the curve with how to handle it. He sat with Rice and his accuser, Janay Palmer, in a wildly tone deaf and inappropriate meeting before deciding to hit Rice with a light two game suspension. To sit down with an accuser and the perpetrator at the same time was way beyond the pale and showed Goodell’s naivety with the issue.
Later, when video evidence of Rice brutally assaulting Palmer in an elevator surfaced, the NFL was caught in a firestorm of controversy for handing Rice such a light punishment. Goodell found himself (rightly) being accused of not caring about the victims of domestic violence and being whimsical about the punishment he handed out. He resolved then to never be accused of such again.
The NFL has a policy about players’ conduct that basically states they won’t do anything to besmirch or smear the name and integrity of the NFL. The Shield of the NFL is paramount and any dirt that reaches the public with a players’ name attached to it can result in any punishment Goodell sees fit.
Goodell hands down the punishment. If the player wants to appeal the decision, Goodell himself also hears the appeal of his own decision. Recently, he has started using what he’s been calling independent arbitrators, such as Harold Henderson in the Ezekiel Elliott case.
Except, that, well, Henderson is employed by the NFL, which is headed by Goodell.
In the case of Rice, when the horrific video surfaced, Goodell reversed course and suspended Rice indefinitely. Rice has not played in the NFL since. Goodell’s decision rubbed many NFL players the wrong way. Players felt Rice got hit with double jeopardy and that his new suspension was not the result of his actions but the result of Goodell being angry about having dropped the ball himself earlier in the process.
Since the Rice incident, the NFL has suspended various players such as Greg Hardy and Ray McDonald. In each case, the player had been arrested. Charges had been filed. Awful photos or videos of their actions surfaced.
But not in Elliott’s case. He has maintained his innocence throughout the process. No one is here saying he actually is innocent. Maybe he committed an act of violence against the woman at a different time. Maybe he didn’t.
What is for certain is the whimsical, fly-by-night attitude of the NFL commissioner. There is no rhyme or reason to his rulings. There is no actual due process afforded to the players. Goodell says they signed collective bargaining agreements saying he has this power.
But that’s like your boss saying “You don’t have to sign this but you’re fired if you don’t.” I mean in a court of law you agreed to it. But in reality, it was just that boss doing whatever they wanted.
For Roger Goodell, this entire saga is all about his public image. It’s not about families or girlfriends or boyfriends or children who experience awful victimization. It’s just about him and how he looks to sponsors. He calls it upholding the integrity of the league but he does it at the expense of everyone else’s integrity.
What about Ezekiel Elliott’s public image? This isn’t even “I’m innocent until proven guilty” territory.
This is, “Man, I was never even arrested” territory.
Across the country many people might be associating Elliott with domestic violence. If he did not commit these acts- and police are saying he might not have- then what Goodell is doing by suspending him for something he didn’t do is tantamount to slander. It will cost Elliott his public image forever and affect him financially. Which is what slander is all about.
And why is the NFL choosing this hill to fight and die on when it comes to image? Right now, as we speak, an African-American quarterback is being denied opportunity simply because he raised issues of race that ruffled the feathers of the NFL’s all-white country club owners.
But we don’t see Roger Goodell interceding on that issue and that player didn’t even get accused of a crime or anything. We don’t see Goodell suspending owners for engaging in racially motivated behavior by teaching that black player a lesson in not causing distractions by raising issues of inequality. Apparently, that does not besmirch the integrity of the NFL.
The upside here is for fantasy football owners. Because the NFL’s decision to uphold the suspension came so soon before the start of the season, Elliott will be allowed to play Week 1. His suspension, apparently, will kick in after that. The suspension remains at 6 games.
It is as light a punishment if he’s guilty as it is ridiculous if he’s innocent.
So they upheld the suspension to make sure we all know how serious the NFL is about the issue. But it’s not serious enough that he should miss, you know, the major market season opener against New York.
See, Elliott is a premier name on one of the NFL’s premier teams, the Dallas Cowboys. They square off with the New York Giants on NBC Sunday Night, the NFL’s biggest prime time slot. The pomp and circumstance of that opener would be significantly less without Elliott in uniform.
That would be bad for business and for sure affect bottom line dollars. And losing those dollars would besmirch the NFL’s name.
So for Elliott he never should have existed in a way that hurt the integrity of the NFL’s name. He will be suspended for that. But they’ll make sure the suspension starts after the marquee game the NFL needs to kick start the financial windfall that is the regular season.
Because the financial bottom line is where Roger Goodell’s integrity truly lives.