Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension over violation of the NFL’s domestic violence policy was upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson on Tuesday.
Henderson ruled in the NFL’s favor, which was first reported by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.
The suspension won’t begin until Week 2, meaning Elliott will be able to play in the season opener on Sunday in Arlington, Texas, against the New York Giants.
With Elliott’s suspension upheld, his legal team and the NFLPA are expected to continue to pursue a lawsuit against the NFL, arguing the league violated its own disciplinary process under the collective-bargaining agreement.
Elliott’s attorneys, Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum released the following statement after the ruling:
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) September 6, 2017
Elliott had a 6 p.m. ET hearing Tuesday before federal judge Amos L. Mazzant that is expected to determine the fate of a temporary restraining order against the NFL’s suspension. If the order were granted, Elliott will be allowed to continue playing while his federal case works its way through the legal system. If denied, Elliott would begin serving his suspension next week, pursuant to NFL rules.
Mazzant is expected to rule by 6 p.m. ET on Friday whether Elliott’s restraining order against the NFL suspension is granted. If it is, he will stay on the field until the case is resolved through all appeals phases.
Elliott will fight the suspension to victory or the complete exhaustion of his legal options, a source close to the running back told Yahoo Sports.
Henderson’s decision to uphold Elliott’s suspension comes in spite of lead NFL investigator Kia Wright Roberts testifying at Elliott’s appeal hearing that she hadn’t found necessary corroborating evidence to back the claims of Elliott’s accuser, Tiffany Thompson. Roberts further testified that she would not have recommended a suspension of Elliott based on interviews with Thompson, other witnesses and an analysis of related evidence. That testimony – notable in part because Roberts was the only investigator on the case to interview Thompson – sparked a pointed volley between the union and the league office over the handling of Roberts’ findings. Specifically, whether they had been shared with commissioner Roger Goodell and the league’s four-person committee weighing the domestic violence evidence.
Documents later filed by the NFLPA in conjunction with Elliott’s federal lawsuit contained what amounted to the entire case against the running back, from the NFL report produced by investigators to a full transcript of Elliott’s appeal hearing. It included wide-ranging and often unflattering testimony from Elliott, including accounts of drinking and drug use while playing at Ohio State, and details about his sexual relationships with Thompson and other women. The documents also spotlighted multiple contradictory accounts regarding Thompson’s injuries, from their existence to their age, including information about how and when they may have been sustained. It also contained new information in the case reflecting on Thompson’s credibility, including an account from an Aventura (Florida) police officer who testified to doubting the authenticity of a similar domestic violence incident Thompson reported against Elliott in February of 2016.
In the end, Elliott’s attorneys and the union argued that interviews with witnesses and Thompson herself – including those of lead investigator Roberts – should have raised serious doubts for the league regarding the claims against Elliott. Moreover, Elliott’s camp sought to cast doubt on the medical opinions the NFL gathered regarding the bruise photos taken by Thompson to support her allegations. Conversely, the NFL’s foundational response continues to lean on the photos and metadata acquired from Thompson’s phone, insisting that they show bruising occurred during a period Elliott and Thompson shared an apartment.
Ultimately, the decision for Henderson would have appeared to have come down to a central point: Either he was convinced by Elliott’s attorneys that facts showed Thompson’s accounts were neither credible or consistent; or he was convinced by the NFL that Thompson’s photos and metadata – and the opinion of doctors – proved that bruises were sustained when she was with Elliott and could only have been the result of domestic violence.
With Henderson having upheld Elliott’s suspension, it appears the NFL’s stance on metadata, photos and the testimony of medical experts outweighed the credibility arguments of Elliott’s attorneys and the NFLPA.
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