Process needs fixing, but Elliott's suspension should stand

From ESPN - September 8, 2017

The federal judge in the Ezekiel Elliott case just Richard Berman-ed the NFL. You remember Berman, right? He was the U.S. District Judge who temporarily sucked the air out of Deflategate, setting Tom Brady free to play the 2015 season while taking a sledgehammer to Roger Goodell's union-bargained system of justice.

The judge this time around, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant might never again have to pay for lunch in Dallas (Berman famously won a lifetime supply of free Dunkin' Donuts coffee in Maine) if Elliott plays the full season and helps the Cowboys win the Super Bowl for the first time in 22 years. Mazzant blasted the league by granting Elliott and the NFL Players Association a temporary restraining order and halting the implementation of the running back's six-game suspension for allegedly assaulting a former girlfriend, ruling that the NFL was playing this game on a field tilted dramatically in its favor.

"Fundamental unfairness," the judge wrote, "is present throughout the entire arbitration process. ... The NFLPA was not given the opportunity to discharge its burden to show that Goodell's decision was arbitrary and capricious. At every turn, Elliott and the NFLPA were denied the evidence or witnesses needed to meet their burden. Fundamental unfairness infected this case from the beginning, eventually killing any possibility that justice would be served. Accordingly, the Court finds that the NFLPA demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits."


On one hand, Mazzant is right: This particular NFL process is broken. A system that assigns Goodell the roles of prosecutor, judge, and jury just does not work, and the league office and owners have to work with the players to ultimately settle on an independent overlord of discipline. But on the other hand, the union, the Cowboys and Jerry Jones -- once Greg Hardy's chief enabler -- should not be doing any end zone dances over this courtroom victory.

Elliott had earned his punishment, and after committing so many unforced errors while confronting (or not confronting) domestic violence, the league did the right thing in sending a message to players that one term of employment, above all, must be understood:

If you assault a woman, your career will be dramatically altered in a negative way.

Josh Brown, the former Giants kicker, just got six games added to the one game he'd already served for allegedly abusing his wife. Perhaps the NFL blitzed Brown before this latest Elliott ruling to get a victory on the board, or to prove it treats players of all skill levels, races and team affiliations the same when it comes to domestic violence. Perhaps not.

Either way, let us remember the league's letter to Elliott informing him of the suspension said it found "substantial and persuasive evidence" that the 6-foot, 225-pound running back engaged in violence against the 5-5, 120-pound Tiffany Thompson "on multiple occasions." Though Robert Tobias, principal assistant city attorney in Columbus, Ohio, said criminal charges were never filed against Elliott because of a lack of sufficient corroborating evidence, he did tell the league: "We never concluded that she was lying to us. We did not think that she was lying to us. ... We generally believed her for all of the incidents."

Tobias said Thompson's injuries were "consistent with what she said had happened. ... I feel like something definitely happened here."


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