Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott suited up for the September 10, 2017 against the New York Giants, despite a six-game suspension issued by the NFL against him in August.
The NFL suspended the 22-year-old player after he was accused of domestic violence by an ex-girlfriend. But a federal judge issued an injunction on September 8, stopping the punishment from going into effect for now. Now, however, a federal appeals court has overturned that decision and the six-game suspension has been reinstated and is effective immediately.
Elliott’s troubles began in February of 2016, when the ex-girlfriend first called police alleging domestic violence at Elliott’s hands. She and Elliott were in Florida at the time, and she said the football player pushed her against a wall and threw all of her belongings off a balcony. Elliott denied this and said his ex had grabbed his waist and he pushed her away. Hmmm.
The next time police got involved with the couple was in July 2016 in Columbus, Ohio, when over a series of five days, the alleged victim claimed Elliott choked her, dragged her out of bed and threw her against a wall. She posted an image of bruises on Instagram, but it later became unclear whether the bruises came from Elliott or from a bar fight that witnesses said she’d been involved in.
Throughout the process, Elliott has denied the abuse and maintained his innocence.
Ultimately, Columbus police did not believe they had the evidence to pursue charges against Elliott and dropped the case. However, Columbus prosecutor Robert Tobias definitely thinks where there is smoke there is fire. He went on record saying, “I personally believe that there were a series of interactions between Mr. Elliott and (his accuser) where violence occurred. However, given the totality of the circumstances, I could not firmly conclude exactly what happened. Saying something happened versus having sufficient evidence to criminally charge someone are two completely different things.”
Meanwhile, the NFL pursued its own investigation, after putting a strict personal conduct policy regarding domestic violence in place in 2014. And according to that policy, just because law enforcement doesn’t pursue charges doesn’t mean players accused of domestic violence are in the clear. The policy states, “It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime. We are all held to a higher standard and must conduct ourselves in a way that is responsible, promotes the values of the NFL, and is lawful.”
After reviewing the evidence, on August 11, 2017 the NFL determined that Elliott should be suspended for six games and that’s when the legal maneuverings really began in earnest.
Those who remember “Deflategate” will note that a similar situation–as it relates to a federal judge’s involvement in an NFL decision and NOT domestic violence occurred when Patriots QB Tom Brady was suspended for four games in May 2015, but appealed in the court system. The case worked its way through the justice system and while the suspension was eventually upheld the decision came too late to apply to the 2015 season. Brady ultimately accepted the decision for the 2016 season.
Does this mean it’s all over for Elliott? Not according to his legal team who, in response to the reinstatement ruling: “We are currently exploring all of our legal options and will make a decision as to what is the best course of action in the next few days. Until that time, we have no further comment on the 5th circuit’s decision.”
It’s important to note that the ruling reinstating the suspension was not based on the merits of the case but rather on procedural grounds. The district court who issued the injunction stopping the suspension did not have subject matter jurisdiction–which means they did not have the legal authority to make such a decision. The reason? Elliott filed his lawsuit prior to the issuance of the final arbitration decision as per the negotiated NFL contract.