The NFL Players Association’s preliminary injunction request on behalf of Ezekiel Elliott has been granted by the US District Court, which means that the running back’s suspension has been put on hold. Judge Amos Mazzant III decided to allow Elliott play for the Cowboys until the Court for the Eastern District of Texas reviews the NFLPA’s petition to void the six-game suspension.
According to Game Feldman, director of the Tulane Sports Law Program, there is not enough time for Mazzant to decide on whether to allow the petition move forward to a full hearing. There is a possibility for the case to be stalled/moved through the court, allowing Elliott to play the entire 2017 season.
“It could be that the suspension is reinstated somewhere down the line, but it looks like for now that Elliott will play most if not all of this season,” Feldman said on NFL Network’s Up to the Minute Live. Elliott has been permitted to play in Sunday’s season opener against the rivalry New York Giants because of the timing of arbitrator Harold Henderson’s appeal decision. Mazzant agreed with the union that Elliott wasn’t given a chance for a fair appeal hearing by Henderson, who was appointed to the case by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Mazzant wrote: “The question before the court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator. The answer is he did not. The court finds, based upon the injunction standard, that Elliott was denied a fundamentally fair hearing by Henderson’s refusal to allow [former girlfriend Tiffany] Thompson and Goodell to testify at the arbitration hearing. Their absence … effectively deprived Elliott of any chance to have a fundamentally fair hearing.”
The NFL disagreed with the statement: “We strongly believe that the investigation and evidence supported the commissioner’s decision and that the process was meticulous and fair throughout. We will review the decision in greater detail and discuss next steps with counsel, both in the district court and federal court of appeals.”
The next step could involve filing a petition with the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, according to Feldman and he believes that NFL is going to appeal. “This is part of the ongoing fight between the players association and the league over the power of the commissioner,” Feldman said. “We have seen the NFL go to great lengths to court to affirm and strengthen and maintain they believe in what they collectively bargained for. And we’ve seen the players association fight and say that the commissioner has overreached and they want to protect the rights of the players … [The NFL] doesn’t want precedent out there that says a court can interfere with the commissioner’s decision or with an arbitrator’s decision. So, I think this fight will continue even if it’s irrelevant to Elliott being on the field or not.”
Elliott received a six-game suspension on August 11 after the investigation which lasted for more than a year and he was accused of domestic violence and broke personal conduct policy imposed by NFL. However, Elliott was never charged and has denied wrongdoing. “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 wrote in a statement released after the decision. “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 suspension was upheld on Tuesday and Henderson wrote Goodell rightfully acted within his “broad discretion” under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement “to decide the process for taking action against a player for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence” in the league. According to Henderson, the suspension wasn’t made on “unreasonable grounds or without any proper consideration of the circumstances.”
The petition to have the suspension nullified was filed by NFLPA hours after the appeal hearing ended, while the NFL filed a motion to dismiss the petition. The NFL also wants to enforce the arbitration ruling and to move the case to New York from Texas. According to Feldman, the union is challenging the process the NFL undertook to suspend Elliott and not conclusions from the investigation. The sporadic fact is that the NFL’s lead investigator Kia Roberts found Thompson as a non-credible witness, which wasn’t included in the statement.
“They’re trying to create a grand conspiracy story where none exists,” league spokesman Joe Lockhart told NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero. Meanwhile, Elliott has practiced with the Cowboys as he prepares for the game against the Giants on Sunday. Follow us for more details.