Here's how Ezekiel Elliott plans to fight his 6-game suspension

NFL columnist
Yahoo Sports

Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal of a six-game domestic violence suspension will be heavily rooted in evidence and testimony the running back’s legal team doesn’t believe was adequately considered by the NFL, a source close to the Dallas Cowboys star told Yahoo Sports.

The thrust of the appeal is expected to be centered on the credibility and character of Elliott’s ex-girlfriend and alleged victim, Tiffany Thompson. The source said a portion of the appeal will attempt to focus on inconsistencies in Thompson’s statements to investigators, including alleged attempts to coerce a witness into lying to the Columbus Police Department during an investigation into Thompson’s domestic violence claims. The source said Elliott’s legal team also hopes to focus on other communication and witness accounts that would provide added context for Thompson’s possible motives for making allegations against Elliott.

Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games by the NFL in a domestic violence case. (AP)
Ezekiel Elliott was suspended six games by the NFL in a domestic violence case. (AP)

According to the source, a sizable portion of the appeal will be based on information the NFL’s investigators had in hand – but downplayed – when producing a 160-page report that was reviewed by league commissioner Roger Goodell and a four-person advisory panel assisting in the suspension determination. The source said an “immense” amount of information regarding Thompson’s underlying credibility and motives was understated in the report advanced to Goodell and the advisers. That will apparently be a focal point of the appeal, as well as additional information that was completely omitted from the report.

At least some of this information was contained in documents tied to the Columbus Police department’s investigation of Thompson’s claims, including an affidavit from one of Thompson’s associates that claimed the woman threatened to “ruin [Elliott’s] career”. Similar information was also reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Monday, including several alleged threats against Elliott attributed to Thompson.

The source said Elliott’s legal advisers don’t believe the NFL or its investigators gave proper consideration to threats Thompson made, or other evidence that would have been inconsistent with her interview statements. At least some of that belief was echoed in the initial statement released by Elliott’s lawyers following his suspension.

“The NFL’s findings are replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions and it ‘cherry picks’ so called evidence to support its conclusion while ignoring other critical evidence,” the statement said.

Two sources close to Elliott told Yahoo Sports they believe the success of the running back’s appeal before the NFL is likely to hang on Goodell’s appointed arbitrator. In past cases – such as the domestic violence suspensions of Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson – Goodell has appointed former NFL executive Harold Henderson to handle the appeal. Both sources said they view Henderson as a rubber stamp of sorts for Goodell and his appointment would likely mean a loss, which could potentially force Elliott to take his case to court.

Goodell, however, could appoint an independent arbitrator to oversee the appeal, choosing someone from the legal realm who doesn’t have ties to the NFL. In that scenario, the sources said Elliott’s appeal could have a chance at success. Here’s the upside of a neutral arbitrator for Goodell: If an outside party handles the appeal and reaches the same conclusion as the commissioner and the advisory panel, it would significantly weaken Elliott’s chance at overturning the suspension if it were taken to the court system.

Elliott is expected to file his appeal by Wednesday. The league will then have 10 business days to name an arbitrator and schedule a hearing on the appeal.

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