The NFL season is starting this week, and it just wouldn’t feel right to start the season without some drama coming from the NFL league office. No, I’m not talking about the protests for Colin Kaepernick outside NFL HQ, I’m talking about the suspension of star Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Although it was not in dispute before, the suspension of Elliot is the latest example of the failure that is the NFL’s player conduct policy. Elliott, who lead the NFL in rushing yards during his rookie season with the Dallas Cowboys, was recently suspended by the NFL for 6 games as a result of an NFL investigation into allegations of domestic violence against his former girlfriend.
The allegations made over a year ago – in July 2016 – never led to Elliott being arrested, and no charges were filed in criminal or civil court against him. However, that did not satisfy the NFL. The league launched its own investigation, and ultimately reached the conclusion that he should be suspended 6 games.
In addition to the domestic violence allegations, Zeke Elliott has had his fair share of other mishaps. He pulled down a woman’s top during a St. Patrick’s Day parade, and as recently as July was accused of assaulting a person at a Dallas-area club. However, in both cases no complaint was filed, and he was not considered a suspect in the assault at the Dallas nightclub.
While there have clearly been mistakes, those mistakes were supposedly not considered by the NFL in determining the punishment. His 6-game suspension was strictly a result of a violation of the personal conduct policy, as determined by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The irony of the suspension is that the private investigator hired by the NFL to investigate the matter, Kia Roberts, recommended Elliott not be suspended.
Clearly there has been questionable conduct from Ezekiel Elliott, and at least in the case of pulling down the woman’s top there was actual evidence, yet the league did not dish out their punishment with the consideration of any of these events. Their singular rationale for the punishment was the findings from Roberts’ investigation into domestic violence issues, which concluded with a recommendation for no suspension. During her investigation, Roberts, a former assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, interviewed the woman who made the allegations against Elliott. Roberts found her to be lacking credibility.
Not to mention the fact that while Roberts’ findings were used to aid Goodell and company in their conclusion of a 6-game suspension, Roberts herself was reportedly not actually in the meeting to determine the punishment. So, despite a justice system that found insufficient evidence to discipline Ezekiel Elliott, and their own investigator who found the same, the NFL and Roger Goodell proceeded with a significant punishment anyway, leaving Elliot to look like the victim in this scenario.
Luckily for Elliott, per the NFL policy, he had the ability to appeal his suspension. Did I mention that his appeal was to the same person who issued the punishment to begin with: the NFL league office? Despite no requirement to do so, Roger Goodell appointed Harold Henderson to hear Elliott’s appeal. And while Henderson is independent, he knows who hired him and knows what their interests and desires are. Simply put, it’s hard to ignore the smoke.
Henderson is the same person who reduced Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to 4 after Hardy was involved in a domestic violence incident. Although Hardy’s criminal case was eventually dismissed, Hardy was actually convicted in a court of law. Elliott’s suspension is now 2 games more than Hardy’s, despite questionable-at-best evidence, and no conviction in a court of law.
The issue here is with the system. The NFL conduct policy reeks of inconsistency, ambiguity, and arbitrary decisions when it comes to these suspensions. If there was evidence available that he was guilty of domestic violence, by all means he should be suspended for the full 6 games or more. Unfortunately, the optics of this situation appear to be the NFL having a desire to suspend Elliott after growing tired of his questionable off-field conduct, and using an unproven accusation against him as their chance to send a message.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is the judge, jury, and executioner when it comes to NFL punishments. In the country with the greatest democracy in the world, our most popular sport is adjudicated as a dictatorship. There is no consistency, facts are seemingly trivial, and decisions come from a fickle decision maker and are seemingly arbitrary. That is the problem with the NFL’s personal conduct policy – a policy that badly needs changed.
Evan Berryhill is a former Communications Advisor to Rep. David B. McKinley, and current law student. He can be reached via Twitter: @EvBerryhill