Ezekiel Elliott Eligible to Play Sunday, But Season Is Up in the Air

The fight over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension moved to the federal court system Tuesday.
The fight over Ezekiel Elliott's suspension moved to the federal court system Tuesday.
Keith Allison
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Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott will not begin serving his potential six-game suspension until at least week two, when the team plays the Denver Broncos, after a federal court hearing in Sherman on Tuesday night. U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant III did not rule on Elliott's request for a temporary restraining order but indicated he will do so Friday.

League attorneys confirmed that Elliott would be eligible to play during the Cowboys' first game of the season Sunday against the Giants, despite NFL arbiter Harold Henderson's decision to uphold NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling to suspend Elliott. Henderson's decision came too late in the week for Elliott to be suspended Sunday, league attorneys told Mazzant, according to reporters in the courtroom.

Elliott's attorneys have argued throughout the appeal process that the NFL's investigation of their client was unfair, intended to protect the league's image rather than give Elliott a fair hearing on domestic violence allegations made by Elliott's ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson.

"We are extremely disappointed with Mr. Henderson's inability to navigate through league politics and follow the evidence, and, most importantly, his conscience," Elliott's attorneys said in a statement after the hearing. "Mr. Elliott is looking forward to having his day in federal court where the playing field will be level and the NFL will have to answer for its unfair and unjust practices."

Thompson initially called Columbus, Ohio, police on Elliott in July 2016, alleging that the former Ohio State star attacked her several times during a one-week period that culminated with Elliott's 21st birthday party. At that party, several witnesses heard Thompson say she would ruin Elliott's life. Eventually, the Columbus City Attorney's Office declined to press charges in the case, citing conflicting witness statements.

Despite that decision, the NFL investigated Thompson's allegations for more than a year, eventually concluding that Thompson told the truth about three of the five instances in which she accused Elliott of assaulting her. Goodell, the league's commissioner, suspended Elliott for six games, the penalty prescribed by the league's collective bargaining agreement for domestic violence accusations.

Following the suspension decision Elliott's defense team threw everything it could at the league. This included testimony by the NFL's co-lead investigator in the case, Kia Roberts, who said that because of Thompson's credibility issues, she did not believe Elliott should have been suspended. Thompson asked a witness to one of the alleged assaults to lie, made plans to sell sex tapes she made with Elliott and repeatedly threatened Elliott that she'd ruin his career.

During his appeal, Elliott admitted using drugs at Ohio State, confirmed that Thompson taunted him about sleeping with former Cowboys wide receiver Lucky Whitehead and said that he'd helped Thompson get an abortion after she became pregnant. All of that information was included in the public record after Elliott and the NFL Players Association sued the league last week in hopes of getting a temporary restraining order against a suspension.

If Mazzant grants Elliott's request for a temporary restraining order Friday, Elliott will likely be able to play for the duration of the 2017 NFL season as his case winds through the federal court system. If the judge turns Elliott down, Elliott will likely appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking to further delay the imposition of the suspension.

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