Let’s get this out of the way first: the NFL was 100 percent correct in its decision to suspend Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who has been rightly criticized for how he handled past allegations of domestic abuse against NFL players, made the right call in suspending Elliott despite the lack of criminal charges against the second-year star. While there was a lack of sufficient corroborating evidence in the case against Elliott, the evidence was “substantial and persuasive” enough for the league to determine that he engaged in violence against his former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson on “multiple occasions”. As Robert Tobias, principal assistant city attorney in Columbus, Ohio — where Elliott allegedly abused Thompson — noted, her injuries were “consistent with what she said had happened. We never concluded that she was lying to us. … We generally believed her for all of the incidents.” As far as the NFL is concerned, Elliott’s actions are clearly worthy of at least a slap on the wrist.
Image via Yahoo Sports
Yet, given Elliott’s presence on the field in the Cowboys’ first two games, it is clear that the NFL’s system is not without its imperfections. The back-and-forth legal battle between Elliott and the league has resulted in a victory — albeit a short-term one — for the player, as the NFL was denied its request for a stay in the injunction that is allowing Elliott to play while the legal system decides the outcome of his suspension. It is the second time the NFL has suspended a star player, the first being New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, only to see the player manage to win a bid to halt the suspension. This time, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant ruled that the league was not playing on a level playing field.
Fundamental unfairness,” Mazzant wrote, “is present throughout the entire arbitration process. … 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.”
Mazzant is right, the NFL’s system is highly flawed. In no scenario should Goodell be allowed this much power. The process should be handled by an independent party agreed on by everyone involved. Until this happens, expect the league to continue to trip over its own feet in these situations. We have no doubts that when he looks in the mirror each morning, Goodell tells himself his decision is the only one that matters. In some cases that might be true, but as we’ve witnessed twice now, this process of decision-making is far from perfect.