A Zeke Outlook: Elliott’s Suspension Reveals Limitations of NFL’s Domestic Violence Policy
Two-thirds of football viewers believe that the National Football League (“NFL”) has a domestic violence issue.1 The NFL has struggled to present a genuine dedication to the prevention of domestic abuse since its ill-handling of Ray Rice’s suspension four years ago.2 Currently, Ezekiel Elliott’s strategic appeals process, which is receiving heavy attention due to Elliott’s perceived talent and football fans’ dependency in setting fantasy football lineups, is not rectifying the image of domestic abuse in the NFL.
The NFL might have thought it completed its due diligence in 2014, when it collaborated with current and former players, the NFLPA, domestic violence and sexual assault experts and advocates, and law enforcement officials to develop a strict revision to the personal conduct policy to combat domestic violence and assault after the Ray Rice matter.3 The strengthened policy included, among other provisions: (1) a baseline suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, battery, or domestic violence and (2) additional NFL-funded counseling and services for victims, families, and violators.4 The new policy was supposed to set the stage for a proactive NFL in the fight against domestic violence.
Nonetheless, pursuant to the revised personal conduct policy, Commissioner Roger Goodell, on August 11th, 2017, suspended Elliott for six games.5 Goodell, based upon a thorough and extensive NFL investigation, found that Elliott had violated the policy when he used physical force in multiple altercations with his then-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson.6 Four days later, Elliott formerly filed an appeal on the grounds that he did not receive a fundamentally fair hearing.7
Elliott and the NFLPA have been playing legal tic-tac-toe in multiple jurisdictions in attempt to contain Goodell’s disciplinary power.8 Most recently, on November 9th, the Second Circuit of the United States Federal Court of Appeals9 denied Elliott’s motion for an injunction to stay the suspension until after the appeal is heard.10 While Elliott has been able to legally push back the commencement of his suspension ten weeks through a series of temporary restraining orders, preliminary injunctions, and administrative stays, the NFLPA has been unable to line these victories up into a successful override of Goodell’s power.11
The on-again-off-again nature of Elliott’s suspension occurred throughout Domestic Violence Awareness Month and has carried with it a perceived lack of effort toward victims and survivors of domestic violence.12 The NFL has yet to seize the month of October as an opportunity to fully push anti-domestic violence initiatives. Even shortly after the public backlash that occurred after the Rice assault, the NFL infamously issued uniform violations and disciplined players who were raising awareness for domestic violence.13 This year was not much different, as rather than facilitating lasting conversion or collaborating with the NFLPA to discuss further domestic violence policies, the narrative throughout the NFL in October was centered on the NFL’s botched investigation and Elliott’s playing status.
The legal battle between the NFLPA and Goodell, however, has shined a light on numerous flaws within the NFL’s public relations department, disciplinary system, and outreach programs. Primarily, the NFLPA has focused its efforts on limiting Goodell’s disciplinary power under the current Collective Bargaining Agreement.14 The discipline issued often is born out of an unclear respect for a player’s due process and results in an exhaustive federal appeals process.15 Additionally, the immediate implementation of the revised personal conduct policy, resulted in unsteady rulings and inconsistencies. 16 Furthermore, an actual domestic violence awareness campaign remains in the background of the NFL’s initiatives. 17 Therefore, the revised personal conduct policy aimed at combatting domestic violence is met with a lack of support, certainty, and seriousness.
Despite is latest ruling, the Court, however, did grant Elliott’s motion for an expedited appeal, which will occur four games into his suspension on December 1.18 The discussion of when people can insert Elliott back into their fantasy lineups will continue, but the NFL must use the pending appellate decision to propagate the conversation about domestic violence and patch the procedural, public, and potency limitations of its personal conduct policy.
Stephen L. Carter, Commentary: The NFL has a serious violence problem, Chicago Tribune (May 2, 2017), http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-nfl-sexual-assault-violence-20170502-story.html [https://perma.cc/TS4Z-F5ZR].↩
Nancy Armour, Suspension of Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott shows NFL has finally learned from Ray Rice, USA Today (Aug. 11, 2017), https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/columnist/nancy-armour/2017/08/11/suspension-cowboys-ezekiel-elliott-shows-nfl-learned-ray-rice/559886001/ [https://perma.cc/A2QY-8CEU].↩
Personal Conduct Policy, NFL.com (2014), http://static.nfl.com/static/content/public/photo/2014/12/10/0ap3000000441637.pdf [https://perma.cc/L6P6-GMA9].↩
Kate Hairopoulos, Ezekiel Elliott timeline: The suspension, the appeal and where the Cowboys RB stands now, SportsDay Dallas (2017), https://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2017/11/09/ezekiel-elliott-timeline-suspension-appeal-cowboys-rb-stands-now [https://perma.cc/CFY2-ZEC2] (last visited Nov 12, 2017).↩
The preferred jurisdiction for the NFL after the “Deflate-gate” ruling in NFL Mgmt. Council v. NFL Players Ass’n, 820 F.3d 527 (2d Cir. 2016).↩
Hairopoulos, supra note 5.↩
See id; President Donald J. Trump Proclaims October 2017 as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Whitehouse.gov (2017), https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/09/30/president-trump-proclaims-october-2017-as-national-domestic-violence-awareness-month [https://perma.cc/EN53-3TTY].↩
Erick Fernandez, NFL Fines William Gay For Domestic Violence Awareness Cleats, The Huffington Post (Oct. 28, 2015), https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/william-gay-fined-domestic-violence-awareness-cleates_us_5630f41de4b063179910541f [https://perma.cc/ZVW9-BP95] (last visited Nov 12, 2017).↩
Matthew Futterman, NFL, Union Closer to Deal Stripping Roger Goodell of Discipline Power, The Wall Street Journal (Mar. 14, 2016), https://www.wsj.com/articles/nfl-union-closer-to-deal-stripping-roger-goodell-of-discipline-power-1458001524 [https://perma.cc/X5JG-79NZ] (last visited Nov 12, 2017).↩
Diana Moskovitz, The NFL Investigation And Punishment Of Josh Brown Achieved Nothing, Deadspin (Sept. 13, 2016), https://deadspin.com/the-nfl-investigation-and-punishment-of-josh-brown-achi-1785483758 [https://perma.cc/DK2Q-Z7CP] (last visited Nov 12, 2017).↩
Lindsay Gibbs, Three years after Ray Rice, the NFL’s domestic violence initiatives are still in flux, Think Progress (Nov. 3, 2017), https://thinkprogress.org/nfl-domestic-violence-year-3-1cddcfc8be60/ [https://perma.cc/TA36-ZMRN] (last visited Nov. 12, 2017).↩
Hairopoulos, supra note 5.↩