In July of last year, another NFL player was accused of domestic violence, but unlike the other (seemingly hundreds of) accounts of violence the NFL has had to deal with over the last decade, this one was different. In July of 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, before playing a game in the NFL, was accused of abuse on five separate occasions between July 17 and 22, however, no charges were ever pressed and no other legal action was ever taken against the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back. This would put in motion a set of events and decisions that are still playing out today.
The reason this cases is so important has multiple levels, the first being that this wasn’t the first time Zeke was accused of domestic violence. In February of 2016, before Zeke was even in the NFL, a woman who claimed to be a “friend with benefits” with Elliott called the police reporting he had pushed her against the wall for “texting one of his old teammates” . In September of 2016, it was announced that there would be no prosecution against Elliott– news that came right before the Dallas Cowboys began their 13-3 season and made a push for the playoffs. The future looked bright for the Cowboys, at least until March, when video surfaced of Elliott pulling down a woman’s shirt at a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Not great for a player that many already thought got away with assault just a few months earlier. This controversy also comes as the NFL is having one of their worst PR nightmares yet. Not only does the NFL have to deal with the issue of their players not standing for the national anthem, stars dropping left and right throughout the league from injuries, and the concussion issue that has hung over the league for the past five years, but now they also have another NFL player under the microscope of society, judging both his actions and the league’s response to his actions.
In July of this year, Elliott received his third strike. Almost a year after his first mistake, Zeke got into an altercation at a restaurant in Dallas. While no charges were filed, the NFL had had enough. On August 11, the NFL ruled that Zeke would sit out the first six games of the 2017 NFL season. Since then, there has been an appeal from Zeke, a restatement of the suspension, and another court ruling putting it off at least a few more months. Elliot hasn’t missed a game.
Why It Matters
The reason it matters is big, but also small. Big picture, every appeal makes the NFL look weaker. There is a growing amount of fans who have sisters, mothers and daughters who don’t like to see their team, much less “America’s Team,” the Dallas Cowboys, employing domestic abusers and what some would consider villains. On the other hand, there are fans who think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is overstepping his authority. There is no video of Zeke in Dallas, there were no charges pressed, so why should the Commissioner get to hand down arbitrary penalties? The NFL is in a lose-lose situation–one they seem to find themselves in more and more frequently.
The smaller side pertains to the game on the field. Even though the Cowboys have “struggled” this season, going 2-3 so far, the outcome would be much worse without their Rookie of the Year and workhorse running back. Even though the suspension has been pushed off again until October 31, when there will be another hearing, Zeke will play again this weekend against the San Francisco 49ers.
What to Make of It
Zeke won’t be able to outrun these accusations. Ask Tom Brady, who had to serve a four game suspension at the start of last season for “Deflategate.” Once the NFL and Goodell go after someone, they usually get them. Zeke will serve some sort of suspension, it’s just a matter of when that suspension will take effect. If the NFL hands down the suspension with only a few weeks left in the season, Cowboy fans will have to watch their team fight for a playoff spot without one of their most explosive offensive players. Or, we could see this drag on throughout the off-season again and have Zeke sit out the start of next season, like Brady’s case made him do.
The biggest reason for Elliott serving this suspension is the context for the case. The charges against Elliott come after Ray Rice in 2013, Adrian Peterson in 2014, Greg Hardy in 2014 who played for the Cowboys for a season, and countless other players. The NFL has had a “zero tolerance” policy in place since Rice was only handed a two game suspension after knocking his future-wife out cold in an Atlantic City elevator. The problem has been systemic, and Zeke won’t be able to outrun the consequences of his actions.
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