Federal judge Amos Mazzant on Friday granted a request by the NFL Players Association for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to prevent the implementation of the six-game suspension for Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott was already eligible to play in Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants, but his suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy was to begin Monday. With the injunction granted, Elliott likely will be able to continue playing as the legal process plays out.
If the request had been denied, Elliott would have appealed to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals to ask for an immediate stay.
“We are very pleased that Mr. Elliott will finally be given the opportunity to have an impartial decision-maker carefully examine the NFL’s misconduct,” Elliott’s attorneys said in a statement Friday night. “This is just the beginning of the unveiling of the NFL’s mishandling as it relates to Mr. Elliott’s suspension.”
On Aug. 11, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced Elliott’s six-game suspension after the league found that he inflicted physical harm on former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in July 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Elliott has denied the claims.
Columbus authorities did not pursue charges against Elliott, but the league’s personal conduct policy has a lower burden of proof threshold than criminal convictions. Goodell worked with a four-person advisory committee to determine whether Elliott deserved to be punished. However, it was revealed during the appeal process that Kia Roberts, the NFL’s lead investigator, had issues with Thompson’s credibility and that she would not have recommended discipline for Elliott based on what she had found.
On Tuesday, appeals officer Harold Henderson upheld the suspension as Mazzant was hearing the NFLPA’s request for the TRO at the Paul Brown District Court in Sherman, Texas.
“The question before the Court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator. The answer is he did not,” Mazzant wrote in his ruling Friday. “The Court finds, based upon the injunction standard, that Elliott was denied a fundamentally fair hearing by Henderson’s refusal to allow Thompson and Goodell to testify at the arbitration hearing.”
Mazzant also wrote that “the NFL’s breach of the [collective bargaining agreement] is only compounded by Henderson’s breach of the CBA. Specifically, Henderson denied access to certain procedural requirements, which were necessary to be able to present all relevant evidence at the hearing.”
The NFL, in a statement released later Friday, said it disagreed with the court’s assertion.
“We strongly believe that the investigation and evidence supported the Commissioner’s decision and that the process was meticulous and fair throughout,” the league said.
In his ruling, Mazzant noted that the court was not ruling on whether there was credible evidence that Elliott committed domestic abuse.
At the heart of the NFLPA’s case is what it believes is a lack of “fundamental fairness,” in the appeals process, noting Henderson was not an independent arbitrator and they were not allowed to question Thompson about the series of events two summers ago.
“Commissioner discipline will continue to be a distraction from our game for one reason: because NFL owners have refused to collectively bargain a fair and transparent process that exists in other sports,” the NFLPA said in a statement later Friday. “This ‘imposed’ system remains problematic for players and the game, but as the honest and honorable testimony of a few NFL employees recently revealed, it also demonstrates the continued lack of integrity within their own League office.”
The Cowboys did not comment on the court’s decision.
Elliott posted a video on Instagram with the caption: “Momma told me if ya fall never stay down.”
Click here to read more.