Was the NFL wise to suspend Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games?

A few random thoughts about Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s six game suspension as levied by the NFL after reading numerous traditional and social media comments and questions:

1.”How can the NFL suspend a player  who was not convicted of a crime?” Article 46 of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows for a player to be disciplined for uncharged bad or criminal acts if doing so protects the “integrity of the league.” As such, Article 46 is a “public relations” provision that has been used like a scythe ever since the NFL grossly mishandled the Ray Rice incident a few years ago. Rice, you may recall, was the Baltimore Ravens running back who was slapped on the wrist for domestic violence until videotape evidence was released showing hin viciously punching his wife in the head. After the videotape went viral, then and only then was Rice given the “deuces” and he has not played a down since. So at a minimum, Elliott and his lawyers knew that the allegations against last year’s rookie sensation that suggested that he caused physical injuries to his former girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, would lead to a lengthy suspension and a heavy tax in pay.

2. Ok, so I see your point about the Collective Bargaining  Agreement but still, shouldn’t the fact that the prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio did not charge Elliott with a criminal offense count for something?” With a nod to Peter Abelard and his classic “Sic et Non,” the simple answer is “Yes” and “No.” “Yes” from the standpoint that Elliott did not have to do jail time for what was alleged, which I will explain below, and “no” to the on the job discipline because the NFL, like any corporation, is image conscious and will do what it seems necessary to protect what matters most to Commissioner Roger Goodell and the 32 owners and their corporate partners–which is profits.

As a former prosecutor whose first assignment fresh out of law school was domestic violence cases, I know full well that prosecutors often decline to file formal charges–or drop existing ones–when the victim does not wish to cooperate. Implicit within this last sentence is the fact that such decisions do not mean that there is no evidence of a crime, rather, victims for reasons ranging from not wanting to testify in open court, to needing their significant other or husband out working to provide instead of locked up, will simply refuse to cooperate. In the Elliott case, Columbus prosecutor Robert Tobias stated clearly that they believed that the victim was telling the truth, but what he did not say, and as a trial veteran I know full well, is that Thompson did not push hard for charges against Elliott despite evidence that includes the pictures below:

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Separately, under Article 46 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NFL is not bound by Ms. Thompson’s wishes. Per its investigation, the NFL tapped four independent reviewers to consider all of the evidence, including Elliott’s version of events. These reviewers included Peter Harvey, a former Attorney General for the State of New Jersey, Ken Houston, a former NFL player, Tonya Lovelace, CEO of Women of Color, and Mary Jo White, former federal prosecutor and member of the Securities and Exchange Commission.

These designated reviewers considered pictures of Thompson’s injuries, testimony from forensic medical specialists who reviewed the physical evidence, text messages, social media posts as well as rebuttal evidence provided by Elliott that blamed Thompson for three separate incidents of violence and concluded that Elliott was the cause of the injuries sustained by Thompson. The reviewers also considered a video of Elliott pulling at the clothes and exposing a woman in Dallas earlier this year and concluded that he was clearly in violation of Article 46.

Now, Elliott’s suspension sans formal charges is similar to cases I routinely handle as a defense attorney where a young student at Florida State University, Florida A&M University, the University of Florida or Tallahassee Community College is brought before the school’s discipline board for allegations that were either not charged, or charged and later dismissed. The institutions of higher education can and often do suspend students from school after their internal hearing even when the criminal case is pending or has been disposed of; such suspensions are rarely deemed violations of due process or civil rights by higher courts. I felt it proper to mention that so that all will be clear that Elliott has a tough road ahead if he chooses to sue the NFL.

3. Damn, Attorney Hobbs, it looks tough for Brother Elliott but let’s be real bruh, what Elliott did is no worse than what former New York Giants kicker Josh Brown did to his wife and only received a one game suspension. True, the offenses are similar, but I was in elementary school when my parents put me up on game by telling me that as a black boy, I could not make the mistakes that white boys make and get away with it. My parents also let me know early on that just because Billy or Greggy did it, does not mean that Chuckie would not get his ass torn up for doing it.

Yes, racial double standards are beyond frustrating, but the saddest reality is that young black millennials are growing up not being told the age-old truth that “we” cannot do what “they” do and it is an eye-opening experience when reality breaks that whole “post racial” farce. Plus, are we really comparing wife/wifey beaters?  Sigh, I guess this is the latest iteration of the Roman Polanski/Woody Allen could rape and get away with it but Bill Cosby couldn’t…

4. Man, this all seems unfair. It is fucked up that Thompson lied about Elliott and done messed up his livelihood and my Cowboys chance at a Super Bowl. No, what is fucked up is that Elliott put his hands on Thompson with enough force so as to cause noticeable physical injuries that have been reviewed and confirmed by medical experts and legal experts assigned to the investigation. Elliott must learn that the simple way to deal with domestic strife is to leave the relationship, not to treat the female significant other as a tackling dummy or a punching bag.

5. It is perverse that the same league that has white owners who voted for or supported then presidential candidate Donald Trump even after it was revealed that he bragged about the immoral act of forcibly grabbing women by their genitals, would be so harsh on a young Brother like Elliott for alleged immorality.

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No, what is perverse is that an owner like Jerry Jones is “furious” that his star running back is suspended for domestic violence and simple assault/battery on two different women, but has been eerily silent about the issues surrounding Colin Kaepernick being white-balled from the NFL because he peacefully protested the issue of police brutality against Black folks. Jones, like his fellow white owners, proves by his acts and his silence that the only black lives that matter to him are those of the players who can bring him another Super Bowl Lombardi Trophy and the resulting lucre from the same.