January 7, 2018

The Ezekiel Elliott Saga and The NFL’s Ongoing Domestic Violence Problem

Etai Barash ‘18

Last February, the National Football League was once again embroiled in allegations of domestic violence with the accusation the Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott domestically abused his ex-girlfriend.
Elliot’s accuser alleges that the Pro Bowler was violent with her on multiple occasions, detailing injuries, events and the toxic relationship she had to endure. Elliott denies all physical allegations and claims that the two never dated, but admits there was a sexual relationship.
After investigating, the NFL concluded that Elliot had physically abused his accuser on at least three separate occasions, citing photographs, text messages and eyewitness accounts. The NFL then gave Elliott a six-game suspension on August 11, 2017. Four days later, the NFL Players Association appealed Elliott’s suspension and the back-and-forth drama began. For months, Elliot’s suspension appeared to be about to take effect, only to be pushed by court injunction.
Finally, on November 15, after a “practical assessment of the current legal landscape,” Elliott finally dropped his appeal and decided to sit out the next six games, making him eligible to return for the Cowboys final two regular season games, starting on December 24th.
Elliott’s dramatic battle over his suspension highlighted the challenges the league has faced regarding domestic violence. The NFL has the most domestic violence cases of all the major sports leagues in America and their handling of these situations has served only to heighten focus on this issue.
In 2014, it took the NFL over five months to suspend running back Ray Rice for just two games after video surfaced of Rice pulling his unconscious fiance out of an elevator. A month later, the public was provided with the whole video, which the NFL reportedly had the entire time, that showed Rice punching his fiance violently in the elevator. Only after vast public outcry did the NFL suspend Rice indefinitely. Rice would never be reinstated.
Similarly, kicker Josh Brown was suspended for just one game even though his wife alleged he had abused her more than 20 times. It took more than a year for the NFL to suspend Brown for just six additional games.
These are just a few cases of the NFL’s mishandling of players who commit domestic violence. Roger Goodell, the commissioner of the NFL, has often been inconsistent with the lengths of the suspensions he gives out. For example, Tom Brady got the same length suspension for deflating footballs as Brown did for repeatedly beating his wife over 20 times.
This inability to act swiftly and decisively continued into the Elliot case. It is important to gather the facts, but the NFL needs to be more definitive and fair in their punishments.
As the most popular and widely followed sports league, the NFL has a certain responsibility to set an example of decency and good character. If players are allowed to continue playing, having only been lightly punished, after domestically abusing their spouses, the NFL is sending the implicit message that this kind of behavior is tolerable.

Hopefully, the Elliot suspension will show the rest of the NFL that trying to evade suspensions by drawing out the legal process is ineffective while showing players that if they carry out these kinds of actions, they will be punished. Only then will the NFL send the message to America that domestic violence must never be allowed to persist.

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