For most of the year-plus that Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott has fought domestic violence allegations made by his ex-girlfriend, Elliott has preferred to let his lawyers, his dad or Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones speak for him. As rumors surfaced Wednesday that Elliott's battle with the league over a six-game suspension might be coming to an end, Elliott told reporters why he's taken his challenge to the league through the NFL's appeal process and, now, the federal court system.
"When you get accused of something of that magnitude, you kinda get labeled as an abuser, and that's just not me," Elliott said in Frisco after the Cowboys' Wednesday practice. "That's not how I want to be seen; that's not what I want to represent my family, so, I mean, it's just important for me to fight."
U.S. District Judge Paul Crotty gave Elliott a temporary restraining order Tuesday night, allowing him to play in the Cowboys' Sunday game in San Francisco against the 49ers while he waits for a decision on his request for a preliminary injunction. If Elliott were to receive a preliminary injunction — he's already received one from a Texas federal court, but it was thrown out because Elliott filed his legal appeal before his NFL appeal process ended — the running back would be eligible to play for the duration of his suit against the league, which is likely to stretch into the offseason, at least.
The twists and turns of his suspension fight have been a grind, Elliott said.
"It's a little tiring, but that's what you have a legal team for. It's not really my job to worry about it. I trust the guys that work for me, and I let them do the job," Elliott said. "You just take it day by day. There's been so many ups and downs, lefts and rights, you really don't know what's coming up next."
Those twists and turns, according to an anonymously sourced report from The Dallas Morning News' David Moore, may be close to ending. Moore says that Elliott and the league discussed a possible settlement this week.
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For the first time since Elliott filed his lawsuit against the league at the end of August, Crotty's ruling has left neither side with a distinct advantage in the legal argument over Elliott's suspension. Before U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant's initial grant of a preliminary injunction in Texas, the league had the upper hand, with NFL arbiter Harold Henderson confirming Elliott's six-game punishment. After Mazzant's decision, Elliott was in good shape, thanks to Mazzant's ruling that Henderson and the league had been fundamentally unfair to Elliott when they refused to require Elliott's accuser, Tiffany Thompson, or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to testify at Elliott's league appeal hearing.
Then the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the injunction, pushing the league back in front before Crotty's decision brought everything nearly full circle. Elliott still needs another preliminary injunction, but U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla, the judge who will make the decision, has opinions from three judges — Mazzant, dissenting 5th Circuit Judge James Graves and Crotty — that argue the league was unfair during the appeal process.
A settlement in which Elliott maintains his innocence but agrees to miss between one and three games could work for both parties. The league would save face, getting out of an ugly fight with one of its most marketable stars, and Elliott could claim that the NFL admitted it made procedural mistakes during its investigation, leading to an improper punishment. If the suspension is not labeled a domestic violence suspension — a condition on which Elliott's defense team would likely insist — Elliott would also not be subject to banishment from the league if he were accused in another incident.
Crotty's restraining order expires Oct. 30 or whenever Failla makes a decision on a preliminary injunction, whichever date comes first.