His name is Ezekiel Elliott. Her name is Tiffany Thompson.
One might have victimized the other, through heinous deeds or defamatory words.
But both have been victimized by the NFL.
While many fans are ready for some football, the league can’t get out of its way. Once again, commissioner Roger Goodell has performed more like a henchman and the NFL is being dragged as a result. His interpretation of “protect the shield” seems to be “test the shield,” seeing how much outrage it can invoke and withstand.
In the Cowboys’ season-opening victory against the Giants, Elliott rushed for 104 yards and caught a career-high five passes for 36 yards. He clearly will be the focal point for as long as he’s available. His image will flash across TV screens hundreds of times per week.
If his denials are true and he really didn’t commit domestic abuse against Thompson in July 2016, many viewers still view him as guilty based on the NFL’s attempted six-game suspension. The damage to his reputation, wobbly already, won’t be repaired easily or quickly.
But if Thompson is telling the truth – which the NFL apparently believes – she probably dies a little whenever she sees him. And a little bit more every time folks in the court of public opinion call her a liar.
She never got her day in a real court because authorities in Columbus, Ohio, decided there wasn’t enough evidence to file charges. There are reports that she threatened to ruin Elliott’s career, attempted to extort him with sex videos and urged a witness to lie to investigators.
None of that matters to the NFL, which uses a lower burden of proof in decisions on player discipline for off-field misconduct. In and of itself, that’s fine, just like cases in civil court. However, the league has a major problem in these matters.
It lacks credibility from beginning to end, from determining punishment to hearing appeals.
That’s why Federal Judge Amos Mazzant III granted Elliott and the NFL Players Association a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction that put the six-game suspension on hold, perhaps for the entire season.
This isn’t about what Elliott did or didn’t do with a former girlfriend.
It’s about what the league didn’t do.
“The question before the Court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator,” Mazzant wrote in a blistering 22-page opinion. “The answer is he did not.
“… Fundamental unfairness infected this case from the beginning, eventually killing any possibility that justice would be served.”
No other conclusion makes sense after learning the NFL’s lead investigator, Kia Roberts – the only league official to interview Thompson – doubted the accuser’s credibility and recommended against a suspension. The NFL didn’t include Roberts’ opinion in the initial decision and didn’t share it with Elliott’s defense team. Neither Goodell, who issued the suspension, nor Thompson, whose account Goodell relied upon, were allowed to be witnesses at Elliott’s appeal.
So the legal merry-go-round begins. The NFL has asked Mazzant for an emergency stay of the preliminary injunction and filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. We saw this dance in the 2015 Deflategate case that bounced from district court to a higher court and the doorstep of the Supreme Court before Tom Brady finally gave in.
Like that case, Elliott’s would be a Pyrrhic victory for the league.
There have been too many examples of Goodell abusing his power as judge, jury and executioner, disregarding inconvenient truths and stacking the deck with alternative facts.
No matter your opinion on the league pursuing cases that prosecutors don’t, we all should oppose this duplicitous process where image is more important than justice.
“This really has to do with what our league’s responsibility is, given the privilege that we have as a league,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told reporters Sunday after the Giants game. “What is our responsibility to do it in a very good and acceptable way? We certainly stand to be critiqued and examined in that area. Everybody else is; everybody that has ever made a decision [is critiqued].
“So why should it surprise us when we adjudicate, or the equivalent to adjudicate, over a privilege that we’ve got in our relationship with players, and we don’t do it in a fair way? Why should it surprise anybody if we get slapped? It doesn’t surprise me. You’ve got to be fair.”
The NFL wasn’t fair to Elliott or Thompson in withholding information. The case for suspension could’ve been made while acknowledging Roberts’ dissent. Instead, the league fueled distrust from players and accusers.
It’s staggering how well the league abuses all parties with its unevenness and underhandedness. Victims of bogus claims are hard-pressed to clear their names. Victims of assault are more reluctant to come forward. The guilty are emboldened. The innocent are terrified.
But that’s how Goodell & Co. roll.
When it comes to the scales of justice, the NFL burns both ends.
— Brooklyn-born and Howard-educated, Deron Snyder writes his award-winning column for The Washington Times on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Follow him on Twitter @DeronSnyder.