SportsPulse: USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes details the NFL’s decision to suspend Ezekiel Elliot for 6 games. As well as what an appeal could like and how this impacts the Cowboys on the field.
USA TODAY Sports
Three years after Ray Rice, the NFL has finally learned how to handle domestic violence.
The six-game suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, announced Friday, sent shockwaves through the league — and not because of the length of Elliott’s ban, which is the baseline punishment according to the NFL’s revamped personal conduct policy.
What was most stunning was that the league let the facts dictate its decision. Not the double pinky swear word of Elliott or the chorus of public opinion. Not even the thinly veiled threats of Jerry Jones, the most powerful owner in the NFL.
In a letter to Elliott, obtained by USA TODAY Sports, explaining the suspension, NFL special counsel for conduct Todd Jones said the league reviewed “thousands” of text messages, other electronic communication and photographs.
And that wasn’t all.
Todd Jones said the league consulted two medical experts about “the causation and aging of certain injuries” to the victim, a former girlfriend of Elliott’s. That’s an important point, given Elliott had tried to claim her bruises and cuts were the result of her conduct, not his.
Commissioner Roger Goodell also consulted with four outside advisers, two of whom are former federal prosecutors. He also talked to the prosecuting attorney in Columbus, Ohio, where the abuse occurred. Though no charges were filed, Todd Jones wrote that the prosecutor had said, “we generally believed her for all of the incidents.”
“Based on the entire record, the credible evidence establishes that on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016, you used physical force against (the victim) resulting in her injury,” Jones wrote before laying out, in painstaking detail, three different incidents of abuse.
That the NFL does not have the greatest track record on domestic abuse is hardly a secret. Even after promising to do better after the Rice debacle — the former Baltimore Ravens running back was initially suspended a mere two games until videotape of him knocking his then-fiancee unconscious in an elevator became public — Goodell and the league have struggled to find the right balance.
The league is not a law enforcement body, and some argue it has no business passing judgment on players’ personal lives. But Goodell is well aware that criminal and unsavory behavior puts the NFL in a bad light, and he takes his role as protector of “the shield” very seriously.
He also knows that the league casts a wide spotlight. When it says domestic violence will not be tolerated, society takes notice.
Standing up to Jerry Jones and giving a bright young star a hefty suspension was not an easy thing to do. But it was the right thing, and the NFL has the evidence to prove it.
Follow columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour
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