NFL Ethically Progresses With Suspension of Elliott

James Cato, Contributing Writer

Editor’s Note: This article contains mentions of intimate partner violence.

The NFL took a step in the right direction with its six-game suspension of sensational second-year running back Ezekiel Elliott. As a league fraught with player discipline controversy, the NFL needed to make a statement when its brightest young star, and arguably the best running back in the league, broke the new personal conduct policy.

Elliott plays for the Dallas Cowboys, dubbed “America’s team,” with its rich history of five Super Bowls, countless Hall of Fame talents, and maverick owner Jerry Jones. Elliott is a money-making machine. The NFL headed into last season with several controversies, such as “Deflategate” and growing concerns over Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy — a cognitive disorder caused by years of concussions and head trauma — which has been discovered in numerous former players and led to a decrease in ratings and questions of the legitimacy of the NFL.

Also, this is the same league that had possession of the infamous videotape of Ray Rice beating his fiancée, and issued a two-game suspension in response, only to turn it into an indefinite suspension once TMZ released its own copy of the video. In a court of law, Ray Rice could have been sentenced to five years in prison, and the NFL’s use of double jeopardy and alleged indifference to domestic assault tested its once loyal fan base.

The introduction of rookies Dak Prescott and Elliott took the Cowboy’s crumbling team to a stellar 13–3 record, reaffirming the NFL’s status as the powerhouse of American sports. The Cowboys, the world’s most valuable sports franchise, are worth $4.2 billion, and their reaffirmation as a top team was a huge step for the NFL in eliminating doubts.

Elliott, however, proved problematic immediately after his fourth overall draft pick by the Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott was seen visiting a marijuana dispensary in Seattle, and NFL players — even ones living or playing in states where marijuana is legal — face immediate suspension for failing a drug test. As the face of what might be the most important franchise in the NFL, Elliott quickly dropped the ball.

The Cowboys, who were previously successful in erasing their star wide receiver Dez Bryant’s early off-field concerns, were confident they could fix the image of their new franchise centerpiece. Elliott, who posted an elite 1,631 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns, and all on a jaw-dropping 5.1 yards per carry, took no time at all to reach superstar status. However, this offseason, he couldn’t seem to follow in Bryant’s footsteps in brushing up his reputation

The first transgression was in a video leaked by TMZ, which featured Elliott aggressively ripping a woman’s shirt off and exposing her to a crowd of people at a St. Patrick’s Day parade. Elliott’s friends tried to refute claims of physical force, saying the two knew each other well. But Elliott cannot deny the shocking and public tapes. Elliott blundered again in another publically documented incident when he punched a DJ in the face at a Dallas bar, breaking the man’s nose and sending him to the hospital. No charges were pressed, but the rest of the league’s owners became uneasy at the sight of a Dallas star acting recklessly getting away with it.

The league could not ignore the issue this past July, when a woman claiming to be Elliott’s girlfriend reported five claims of domestic abuse to the Dallas police. In her statements, she describes Elliott lashing out at her face in anger and choking her for about 30 seconds. These disturbing accounts are joined by other descriptions of strikes and even a jarring attack that “busted the side of [her] jaw” against the wall. Roger Goodell, who in 2014 issued a new personal conduct policy to ensure that a Rice-like incident would never happen again, called for an investigation of Elliott.

This investigation included speaking with and going through the phones of all parties involved, as well as close friends and family members of both Elliott and the accuser. Afterward, they concluded that Elliott broke the personal conduct policy, consequently suspending him for six games.

Many outside factors led to the suspension as well. Goodell faced pressure from several owners who do not want stars to act so recklessly. Regardless, the NFL needed to send a message to players that they are role models who represent something much bigger than themselves and that they need to handle themselves as such.

Elliott’s story is still developing. In the coming weeks, we will likely see an appeal to the suspension, which has already been issued by Elliott. All suspensions are subject to appeal per the NFL Players Association. Based on how the NFL has handled the situation so far, both the league and its players will have taken a step toward a safer and better NFL regardless of the outcome.