ARLINGTON, Texas – Jerry Jones said he wasn’t going to talk about it, wasn’t going to get into Ezekiel Elliott, or the temporary restraining order that delayed his six-game league suspension for domestic violence, or the way the NFL handled the case of the Dallas Cowboys’ star running back.
He is Jerry Jones, though, so pretty soon, he was talking, and it was clear the Cowboys owner wasn’t a fan of the NFL’s process.
“You’ve got to be fair,” Jones said.
Standing outside the Dallas locker room after a convincing 19-3 victory over the New York Giants that featured 140 all-purpose yards from Elliott (104 on the ground, 36 receiving), Jones was asked about the NFL’s approach to player discipline.
Namely, should the league even be involved in disciplining players for off-field issues when local prosecutors don’t pursue charges – as was the case with Elliott and his alleged abuse of a former girlfriend in Columbus, Ohio?
“This really has to do with what our league’s responsibility is, given the privilege that we have as a league,” Jones said, referencing the NFL’s broad powers from the collective bargaining agreement. “What is our responsibility to do it in a very good and acceptable way? We certainly stand to be critiqued and examined in that area. Everybody else is; everybody that has ever made a decision [is critiqued].
“So why should it surprise us when we adjudicate, or the equivalent to adjudicate, over a privilege that we’ve got in our relationship with players, and we don’t do it in a fair way? Why should it surprise anybody if we get slapped? It doesn’t surprise me. You’ve got to be fair.”
Jones is arguably the most powerful owner in the NFL, and if he wants to begin pushing for a new investigative process then it will carry weight.
Under commissioner Roger Goodell, the league has taken a more active role in punishing player conduct away from the field of play. However, the NFL’s system is often viewed as heavy-handed, arbitrary and based on the concept of coming to a conclusion first – and then building a case at all costs to fulfill it.
With Elliott, the league has been assailed for not mentioning that its lead investigator in the case, Kia Wright Roberts, recommended Elliott not be suspended because she did not find corroborating evidence or witnesses to the accuser’s story. Roberts was the only person from the league to speak to the accuser.
While the NFL has the right to ignore or overrule her recommendation, by trying to hide it rather than explain its reasoning, the league corrupted the entire case. Because Roberts’ opinion didn’t come out until after the ruling, Elliott was unable to call Roberts or Goodell as witnesses. The NFLPA cried foul.
In granting Elliott his restraining order, U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant agreed with the union and blasted the NFL.
“Fundamental unfairness infected this case from the beginning, eventually killing any possibility that justice would be served,” Mazzant wrote in a blistering 22-page opinion.
It clearly took the NFL’s incompetency to affect one of his players for Jones to fully grasp what is going on. A close look at the sausage-making of NFL investigations tends to do that.
Jones, for instance, dismissed Elliott’s case was in any way similar to the deflate-gate case that ended with a four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in a supposed scheme to lower the inflation levels of footballs. In the end, the league was ridiculed for its duplicity and lack of evidence in making the ruling.
“Well, [deflate-gate] was about whether or not the player had misrepresented to the commissioner,” Jones said. “We’ve got rules that if you don’t tell the truth to the commissioner, then you can get sanctioned. Those are rules.
“That’s not the case here. Zeke gave him everything … everything he had to have here. So these are different issues.”
We’ll leave it to Patriots owner Robert Kraft to call Jones and try to reeducate him on the facts of the case. At this point, Jones might be more open to hearing it.
Either way, it’s clear Jones is in line with the NFLPA, federal judges and virtually any bystander paying attention that the league has significant problems with how it goes about investigating and disciplining players.
The flawed system damages everyone. It’s not merely players who may be unfairly convicted.
In this case, that could include Elliott’s former girlfriend, whom the NFL believes, trusts and has deemed a victim. If there is anyone the league should be protecting, it’s her. Yet because of its own arrogance, it chose to try to rig the system. So Elliott was starring on NBC on Sunday, and many fans think she’s a liar.
The league office should be mortified. It probably isn’t.
Maybe now Jerry Jones understands what so many in other cities have been saying for years. Even if the intentions are good (such as holding players accountable for domestic violence), the league’s tactics are so bad they undermine everything.
“I don’t have anything to say about the legal aspects with Zeke, the timing or anything like that,” Jones claimed when he first stepped up to speak to the media.
Fourteen minutes later he couldn’t help himself, he couldn’t hold back. The truth is, he shouldn’t be quiet about any of this.
A man with this much power and influence should be speaking up, publicly, privately and – preferably – directly to Roger Goodell.
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It’s commendable the NFL is attempting to take a firm stance against domestic violence, ending decades of weakness and double standards on such a terrible plague.
Not hitting women is easy. Too often NFL players have done it anyway.
Yet, as with so much of the Roger Goodell era, even a well-intentioned idea can come undone via arrogance and incompetence.
Everything these days is a reaction to the league doing a poor job investigating Ray Rice. Then, the NFL failed to follow through and acquire the ugly elevator surveillance tape, only to be horrified and humiliated when the video later emerged. Now, it supposedly presses everything.
Any investigative and judicial system, however, has to be rooted in transparency and fairness, or else whatever verdict it renders – even seemingly the most justified – is compromised. To cut corners is to undermine not just the righteousness of the decision, but the victim seeking justice.
Only Ezekiel Elliott and his one-time girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, know for sure what happened between them in July 2016. Thompson said she was repeatedly abused. Elliott vehemently denies it.
Authorities in Columbus, Ohio, chose not to prosecute. The NFL conducted its own 13-month investigation and found Elliott guilty, leveling a six-game suspension last month. Elliott appealed and lost Tuesday night in a decision that was not a reaffirmation of the ruling but based solely on whether Goodell had enough information to make a ruling.
A restraining order Elliott filed against the league will be determined late Friday by a Texas judge. Either way, Elliott will play Sunday in the Dallas Cowboys’ season opener against the New York Giants. Nothing after that is guaranteed.
This isn’t to say Elliott did or didn’t do it. It’s to say, if the NFL is going to make that determination, if the league is going to discipline a player for an act as serious as domestic abuse, it needs to be airtight in both its reasoning and the process that led to its decision.
The most glaring issue is NFL investigator Kia Wright Roberts testified at Elliott’s appeal hearing that she would not have recommended suspending Elliott in this case. She cited a lack of corroborating evidence, both via witnesses and other data, to back up Thompson’s story. She was the only person from the NFL to speak to Thompson.
The NFL is within its rights to reject the opinion of its investigator, but doing so warrants an explanation. Rather than provide one in its original ruling that deemed Elliott’s actions “inappropriate and disturbing,” the league failed to mention Robert’s counter-opinion at all.
The NFL just acted like it didn’t exist. Or, more likely, operated under the belief the counter-opinion would never get out.
This is malpractice. And not just if you are inclined to believe Elliott did no wrong.
It’s especially malpractice if you’re the NFL and you believe that he did.
Having the lead investigator disagree with the decision due to a lack of evidence and credibility has to be revealed. Then it needs to be explained away, immediately and thoroughly. It’s the obvious weak point of the decision, and thus needs to be answered for in convincing fashion.
This is Day 1 of law school stuff. You have to fight for your accuser.
To just hope no one finds out is ridiculous. Elliott and the NFLPA were going to pursue every defensive angle available. Everything was (and is) going to come out. It’s a lesson the NFL should have learned during deflate-gate when it blatantly misstated testimony from Tom Brady, only to be burnt when a federal judge, against the league’s vehement protest, unsealed transcripts of the hearing.
Mostly, though, this is completely unfair to Thompson, who shouldn’t be put on her heels by the now one-sided revelation about Roberts’ opinion. If the NFL was going to completely believe Thompson and base its case on Thompson’s word, then it needed to proactively defend any obvious attacks on her.
Instead, the league hung her out to dry.
The NFL leaned heavily on photos and forensic evidence in determining Thompson was injured, but it also needed to declare in its initial ruling why that evidence was so compelling that Roberts’ opinion should be discarded. With the league not doing that clearly and pointedly, the public has only heard that the investigator, like the police and prosecutors, didn’t think there was enough to move forward. That’s a damaging and depressing place to put an accuser.
The NFL believes Elliott is guilty. It believes Tiffany Thompson. It may be correct. Yet the league’s floundering has armed Elliott and his lawyers with the reasonable argument to muddy the waters, cast doubts on Thompson and rally support.
It was the league that has proven to be its own – and its chief witness’ – worst enemy here.
And that’s why this is so unacceptable. And that’s why it goes so far beyond this single case. This isn’t the inflation level of a football anymore. This is ugly, real-world stuff.
Why would any future victim trust the NFL to handle these cases properly? Why would any future victim trust the NFL to adequately argue for her? Why would any future victim come forward and speak to the league?
Eradicating domestic violence in the league is an admirable goal. Using an investigative and disciplinary system built on short-term, blunt-force thinking, however, is another unpardonable systemic failure by Roger Goodell’s NFL.
This one comes with real and chilling consequences.
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