MANHATTAN (CN) – Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott must sit out the next six games, the Second Circuit ruled Thursday, refusing to block his suspension by the NFL on domestic-abuse allegations.
A three-judge panel with the federal appeals court in Manhattan issued the order after arguments this afternoon, saying attorneys for the players’ union “failed to meet the requisite standard” to get an emergency injunction.
League attorney Paul Clement told the panel in court today that “discipline is a fact of life in NFL.”
Denying that the league treated Elliott unfairly, Clement cited more than 100 disciplinary incidents in the NFL in the last year that affected more than 500 games.
A former U.S. solicitor general who now works at the firm Kirkland & Ellis, Clement told the judges that enjoining Elliott’s suspension would signal to other players that they could “game the system.”
Though local authorities declined to prosecute when Elliott’s ex-girlfriend accused him of physically abusing her in August 2016, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell called for disciplinary measures this past August, saying the league’s year-long investigation determined that “Elliott’s behavior … was inappropriate and disturbing, reflecting a lack of respect for women.”
Elliott says the league’s disciplinary proceedings lacked due process, however, a claim that has become something of a recurring theme for the league as it haphazardly imposes morality standards on athletes for conduct that garners bad press.
New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was unsuccessful last year in bucking his suspension over the Deflate-gate controversy, but Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice successfully appealed the indefinite suspension he was handed after video emerged of him knocking out his then-fiancee in a hotel elevator.
Elliott’s challenge meanwhile went before different courts in Texas and in New York. Thanks to short-lived stays – the latest of which came a week ago from the Second Circuit – the 22-year-old has not missed a game yet this season.
Thursday’s ruling stands ready to change that. The Cowboys are set to play the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Reinstatement of Elliott’s six-game suspension now will keep him off the field until the Dec. 24 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Elliott ran 27 times for 93 yards and a touchdown in this past Sunday’s game, a 28-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
At Thursday’s hearing, U.S. Circuit Judge Christopher Droney called it a worse hardship for players to have Elliott’s suspension begin midseason, rather than in the first week as the NFL intended.
Elliott appeared in person for this afternoon’s hearing on the 17th floor of the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse, as his teammates practiced for Sunday’s game in Georgia,
Sporting a Louis Vuitton leather backpack, sculpted beard and clean high-top fade haircut, the former Ohio State Buckeye was dressed sharply for court in a tailored black suit and thick-framed glasses.
A member of Elliott’s entourage told reporters that Elliott made a point to come to court so the Second Circuit judges know he cares about his case.
The NFL suspended Elliott a year after his former girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson of Columbus, Ohio, posted to Instagram a photograph of her body covered in bruises. Her caption intimated that Elliott caused them.
“Thrown into walls,” it said. “Being choked to where I have to gasp for breath. Bruised everywhere, mentally and physically abused. It’s not okay. So I want each and every one of you girls to step away now from domestic violence.”
Though the NFL has not released its report on its Elliott investigation, a leaked copy obtained by Yahoo Sports says Thompson admitted to NFL investigators that she considered blackmailing Elliott with a sex tape.
Elliott has denied abusing Thompson and says the NFL’s unfair investigation denied him he opportunity to cross-examine her.
League attorney Clement insisted Thursday, however, that external evidence corroborated Thompson’s claims of abuse and should satisfy the credibility standard.
Likely anticipating today’s rehearsal from the same court that ruled against Brady, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is said to have retained high-profile attorney David Boies in an attempt to block NFL Commissioner Goodell’s contract extension.
Thursday’s hearing focused on injunctive relief only. The players’ union and NFL will square off again on Dec. 1 at 10 a.m.