NFL Reinstates Cowboys Star’s Suspension After Fifth Circuit Decision

FILE – In this Sunday, Oct. 8, 2017, file photo, Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott stands on the field after their 35-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers in a NFL football game in Arlington, Texas. A federal appeals court on Thursday, Oct. 12, 2017, has lifted an injunction that blocked a six-game suspension for Elliott, clearing the way for the NFL’s punishment over domestic violence allegations and likely leading to the running back’s legal team seeking further relief. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)

DALLAS (CN) – The National Football League on Friday reinstated the six-game domestic violence suspension of Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, one day after a federal appeals court lifted an injunction blocking the punishment.

NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said Thursday’s Fifth Circuit ruling is “significant” because Elliott is suspended effective immediately barring any further court intervention.

“I’m not going to handicap either what the Players Association or what any court might do, but I think it is certainly a significant move to affirm our right to enforce our personal conduct policy and enforce it immediately,” Lockhart told reporters during a Friday morning conference call. “It is an important part of our personal conduct policy to apply the discipline in a timely manner and not allow it to be postponed or maneuvered in a way that gets to issues that we hold very important, that is both timely discipline and the competitive issues that are so important to us here at the league.”

The NFL Players Association sued the league on Elliott’s behalf in Sherman, Texas federal court in August, days before league-appointed arbitrator Harold Henderson upheld the suspension on appeal.

Elliott was accused of violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy after former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, of Columbus, Ohio, claimed he abused her last year. He has not been criminally charged for the alleged assault.

A federal judge later blocked the suspension days before the Cowboys’ season opener against the New York Giants, concluding Elliott did not receive a “fundamentally fair” arbitration hearing when he was not allowed to cross-examine his accuser or call NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to testify.

Elliott has since played in every game this season, pending appeal of the injunction.

In a 2-1 ruling, the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit dismissed Elliott’s case on Thursday, agreeing with the NFL that the lawsuit was filed prematurely and that Elliott had yet to exhaust his contracted-for remedies.

“The procedures provided for in the collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA were not exhausted,” the 10-page majority opinion states. “The parties contracted to have an arbitrator make a final decision. That decision had not yet been issued.”

The majority concluded the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction when it issued the injunction blocking the suspension because the arbitrator’s decision had not been issued by the time the lawsuit was filed.

“Although the district court issued the injunction on September 8, 2017, and the arbitrator had previously issued his decision on September 5, 2017, jurisdiction depends on the facts as they exist when the complaint was filed,” the majority opinion states.

Elliott’s attorney, Frank Salzano in Miami, declined to comment on the Fifth Circuit’s ruling.

“We are current exploring all of our legal options and will make a decision as to what is the best course of action in the next few days,” he said.

Ohio authorities declined to indict Elliott after their investigation, but the NFL’s Lockhart said the league holds players “to a standard that is not reliant on what local law enforcement does” or what a district attorney may do.

“We have invested a lot in holding our players to a high standard and in being able to do our own independent investigations,” he said. “This investigation went on for almost a year. It was thorough, it was comprehensive and, most importantly, it was fundamentally fair to the player.”

Elliott led the NFL in rushing yards last year in his rookie season.

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