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The NFL Is Still Just Making It Up As It Goes Along

The NFL Is Still Just Making It Up As It Goes Along
From Deadspin - August 11, 2017

Sometimes, there arent any good answers. Today, NFL officials announced that they had decided to suspend a player accused of domestic violence for six games: The same penalty they promised years ago, and then went about ignoring as they saw fit. This seemed to make people quite happy, which was all the people who run the NFL ever care about. They want to keep fans happy so theyll keep spending, and such subsidiary aims as keeping the football press happy, or at least impressed with their strength, mainly serve to further that principal aim.

But the six game suspension doesnt address why the NFL was able to throw the book at Ezekiel Elliott, at least unless it gets reduced on appeal: They had a highly cooperative witness, which seemed to matter more than in previous cases when they held piles of evidence and still doled out measly suspensions. Is what happened to Tiffany Thompson six times worse than what happened to Molly Brown? Three times as bad as what happened to Janay Rice? There is no way to escape the message sent here to victims. Play our game and well throw the book at a player; ignore us and well blame you.

This dynamic can be seen playing out in the letter that the NFL sent to Elliott explaining his punishment, a league press call about the suspension, and the usual anonymous sources feeding NFL beat writers. For example, the league memo at no point discusses an affidavit signed by a witness, Ayrin Mason, in which she said Elliotts ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, asked her to lie and say she saw Elliott attack her. Mason also gave prosecutors text messages, which later were released under Ohios public records law, which could be seen as supporting her statement.

One of the NFLs advisors on the case, former New Jersey attorney generalPete Harvey, who now is in private practice, alluded to that in a conference call with reporters, per the league-released transcript. One problem, he said, was that Elliotts witnesses did not cooperate with them. Harvey told reporters that the people who offered affidavits to Columbus prosecutors declined to be interviewed by the NFLs investigators, which raised suspicions in our minds about the veracity of these witnesses.

(This being the NFL, and someone perhaps realizing that wasnt the best thing to have said, an anonymous source told the Washington Post the exact opposite, saying, The issue of cooperation or lack thereof was not considered.)

A reporter pressed Harvey specifically on Masons statement and text messages. He responded by saying that, yes, Thompson had asked Mason to lie that night, but that they believed she was telling the truth when she had told them and investigators about the other times she said Elliott had hurt her. He pointed to principal city attorney Robert Tobiass statement to USA Today, in which he said I personally believe that there were a series of interactions between Mr. Elliott and (his accuser) where violence occurred. However, given the totality of the circumstances, I could not firmly conclude exactly what happened. And Harvey threw in another observation: For example, its uncommon for women to take photographs of their injuries the day that they occurred. [Thompson] did that.

Harvey and NFL public-relations chief Joe Lockharta former White House press secretaryalso talked several times about metadata. They said they had the metadata which showed what days the photos were taken, which lined up with when Thompson said Elliott hurt her, and that people saw her on that day confirmed they saw her injuries. Thompson shared those photos with people and then had a conversation with at least one of these persons about the injury and who caused it, Harvey said. At one point, they make sure to point out that they had the metadata and prosecutors didnt, a mostly empty piece of chest-thumping considering that months earlier they were begging the same prosecutors to do them favors and share nonpublic documents and information (and also considering that acquiring metadata does not necessarily take savvy, sophistication, and high-tech tools).

Several times in the letter and in the press conference, the NFL honchos emphasized how much evidence they had and that Thompson cooperated. But I cant escape the nagging question of what would have happened if she hadnt. Would they have blamed her, as they did with Molly Brown and Nicole Holder and Janay Rice? If there is an eery repetition to all this, its that whoever doesnt cooperate gets the NFLs scornits just this time that person is the player himself, which perhaps explains why the NFL took a shot at the playerss union, blaming them for the delay in their announcement of Elliotts punishment.

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