If it is broke, you must fix it
Something is horribly wrong about how the Ezekiel Elliott situation has gone down. Elliot has now been before three different judges in appealing his six-game suspension by the NFL for domestic violence, and he has another hearing scheduled December 1. Thanks to the capricious nature of Roger Goodell’s discipline, we can now expect every NFL player who receives a suspension to take it to court. We can further expect, as happened with both Elliott and the Deflategate fiasco, that it will take more than one judge for the decision to become final.
To summarize, Elliot was suspended in August for six games due to a domestic violence case dating back to July 2016. The district attorney in Columbus, Ohio, who had jurisdiction over the case, had determined that there was insufficient evidence to indict Elliott. Elliott got a preliminary injunction in district court in Sherman, Texas (70 miles from Dallas — no bias there) that allowed him to start the season. But then, a higher court ruled that court did not have jurisdiction and reinstated the suspension. Last week he got a temporary stay that allowed him to play against Kansas City while the NFL Players’ Association sought another injunction, but when the injunction was denied this week the suspension began.
Another hearing is scheduled for December 1, meaning that Elliott may only serve four games of his suspension. Either way, it’s clear that a better way must be found. The NBA and MLB deal with rules violations on a constant basis, and never end up in court. Why is that? Those leagues, unlike the NFL, administer punishment on some basis of logic and consistency. There is a set of agreed-upon rules to make decisions where possible, and when that’s not possible, they have some sensible basis such as precedent or equivalency. Furthermore, Adam Silver and Rob Manfred can administer punishment without being challenged constantly is that they have credibility. Goodell doesn’t.
A league is treading on shaky ground any time it disciplines a player for something that the legal system chose not to prosecute. I’m certainly not going to judge whether Elliott was guilty or innocent, but a large part of the league’s official case against him is based on the fact that he “failed to provide an alternative explanation for the bruises” on his girlfriend. Unless the two of them were locked in a room together for the entire time frame in which the bruises occurred, that is simply not a sufficient reason to presume someone guilty. Statistically, very few women make false accusations of abuse, but it’s not what you or I think, it’s what we can prove.
The length of Elliott’s suspension also seems arbitrary, especially compared to the back and forth that occurred with the punishments for Ray Rice and Greg Hardy. Josh Brown only got one game, though. Elliott will miss six out of 16 games if he serves the entire suspension, which is about the same proportion of the season that Jose Reyes — also was not charged with a crime — was suspended by MLB. It’s very difficult to compare different situations involving domestic violence, so applying a universal punishment to every offense probably won’t work. With that said, if six games is the standard, let’s stick to it.
The solution for this is for the commissioner to sit down with the union and create a policy that covers as broad a range of circumstances as possible. If a punishment falls within the confines of what was agreed on through collective bargaining, no credible judge will hear a case disputing it. That, however, seems unlikely to happen with this commissioner. Goodell has demonstrated on repeated occasions a level of hubris that precludes him from working collaboratively with the players. Even if he were to try at this point, he has poisoned the well to such an extent that it would be difficult for either side to negotiate in good faith. The inability to reach a consensus over anthem protests is yet another evidence of this fact.
It’s hard to imagine Goodell being removed as commissioner. He has fulfilled the charge the owners gave him, namely, to make them bushels of money. The fact that he has done so by downplaying obvious safety issues like concussions and Thursday night games, and has made a mess of virtually every significant disciplinary case is of little consequence. Players, after all, are fungible assets. Either the image or the bottom line of the league would have to take a substantial and lasting hit for the bulk of the owners to turn on Goodell. Nothing that has happened thus far falls into that category. It’s possible to look into the future and see clouds forming that could undermine the stranglehold that the NFL has on sports fans. Is it possible that Jerry Jones is the only owner wise enough to see that a new commissioner is needed to navigate those clouds? Or is Jones just having a hissy fit because his best player got suspended?