The National Football League (NFL) has been flooded with off the field controversies this year, including, the ongoing legal battle between the NFL and Dallas Cowboys’ running back, Ezekiel Elliot. On August 11, 2017, the NFL suspended Ezekiel Elliot six games for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. This resulted from a year-long investigation by the NFL into domestic violence accusations made against him by Tiffany Thompson, an alleged ex-girlfriend. On August 15th, the NFLPA filed an appeal of the suspension. Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the NFL chose to appoint Harold Henderson as the arbiter of the appeal hearing. Henderson upheld the suspension, sparking an ongoing legal battle between Elliot and the NFL.
On August 31, Ezekiel Elliot’s legal team filed a lawsuit against the NFL in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Texas. Elliot claims that the NFL willingly overlooked critical information in their investigation that shows Thompson’s claims of domestic violence may not be credible. On September 8, the U.S. District Court of Eastern Texas ruled that “Elliot did not receive a fundamentally fair hearing”, and granted a preliminary injunction on the Henderson appeal hearing.
Consequently, Elliot has been able to play; however the NFL has filed an appeal of Elliot’s injunction and an emergency stay with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeal in an attempt to implement Elliot’s suspension as soon as possible.
Based on the evidence, the NFL did not give Elliot a thorough investigation or trial. First, prosecutors in this case declined to press legal charges against Elliot, due to inconsistent information and evidence. Second, Thompson herself recommended that the Cowboys running back receive no punishment for the incident. Third, NFL lead investigator, Kia Roberts, testified in the appeals hearing that she did not believe Elliot should be suspended for any games. Furthermore, not only did the NFL not include Robert’s findings in the NFL’s final report, but also Roberts was barred from attending a meeting where another NFL investigator, Lisa Friel, recommended to Commissioner Goodell that Elliot be suspended. Lastly, there are questions as to Thompson’s motive to make these allegations. There are text messages between Thompson and a friend in which Thompson talks about releasing sex tapes to blackmail Elliot. Furthermore, after not being let into a party, she was seen screaming, “your career is over” before calling police. Also, Elliot asserts that on July 22 Thompson told him, “You are a black male athlete. I’m a white girl. They are not going to be believe you.” While this is not determinative of whether domestic violence took place, it does seriously bring into question Thompson’s motive for making the accusations.
The issue is that the NFL seemed to ignore all of the conflicting information that was contained in their very own investigation. In the process, they also chose to ignore and overstep the legal system, which refused to even file charges against Elliot. Serious pieces of evidence that appeared to be purposefully overlooked and ignored led to the suspension of Elliot. For a private organization to do what the NFL has done sets a dangerous precedent that unfortunately oversteps the legal system. Elliot was not given a fair initial hearing by the NFL. Consequently, he should be allowed to play this season in full.
Suggested citation: Zane Shephard, Ezekiel Elliot v. The NFL, Cornell J.L. & Pub. Pol’y, The Issue Spotter, (Nov. 21, 2017), http://jlpp.org/blogzine/ezekiel-elliot-v-the-nfl/.