The NFL announced Friday it has suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games to start the 2017 season. The news was first reported by ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Four days later, Elliott officially filed an appeal of the punishment.
Elliott’s appeal won’t be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, but Harold Henderson instead. The former NFL executive vice president has previously heard appeals from Greg Hardy and Adrian Peterson, and will hear Elliott’s on Aug. 29.
“The NFL's findings are replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions and it 'cherry picks' so called evidence to support its conclusion while ignoring other critical evidence,” Elliott’s representatives wrote in a statement shortly after the suspension was announced.
The NFLPA also released a statement Friday.
“We are reviewing the decision and have been in touch with Ezekiel and his representatives to consider all options.”
Elliott has continually denied accusations of domestic assault that were leveled against him last July. He was not arrested and no charges were filed by authorities, but the NFL launched its own investigation.
It’s standard process for the NFL to conduct an independent investigation into any domestic violence allegations to determine whether a player violated the personal conduct policy. A player can be disciplined under the league’s policy even if he hasn’t faced legal charges.
In a July 2016 report filed with the Columbus, Ohio police department, a woman who identified herself as Elliott’s former girlfriend claimed that he attacked her several times over the course of a week, including an assault that allegedly took place while she was sitting in the driver's seat of her car. In addition to filing a report, the woman posted photos to her Instagram page showing bruises on her leg, arms, hand, and neck.
Elliott denied that he and the woman had lived together, and he told authorities that she suffered the bruises in a bar fight, according to the report.
The police report says that officers spoke with four witnesses, all of whom said that they did not see an assault take place. The ex-girlfriend was referred to the prosecutor's office by police, citing conflicting information.
The same woman also called Florida police in February 2016, alleging Elliott pushed her against a wall. No charges were filed in either case.
The woman cooperated with the NFL’s investigation, which lasted over a year. Four expert advisors from outside the league assisted the investigation: Peter Harvey, a former attorney general for New Jersey; Kenneth Houston, a Pro Football Hall of Famer; Tonya Lovelace, CEO of the Women of Color Network, Inc.; and Mary Jo White, former U.S Attorney. Elliott met with the advisors in June.
In a letter sent to Elliott by Todd Jones, the league’s special counsel for conduct, it said those advisors “were of the view that there is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] had been physically violent” with the woman.
The investigators looked at photographs, police records, and text messages. Two medical experts consulted by the league determined that a series of photographs of the woman’s injuries “appear recent and consistent” to her statements.
The league also looked into another incident involving Elliott. In March of this year, he pulled down a woman’s top during a St. Patrick’s Day parade. The investigators reviewed video and interviewed the woman, who did not file a complaint. The letter sent to Elliott said “your behavior during this event was inappropriate and disturbing, and reflected a lack of respect for the woman.”
Although the league did not discipline him for the incident, it said it “suggests a pattern of poor judgment.”
On July 16, Elliott was connected to an incident at a Dallas bar, though he was not named as a suspect and no police report was filed. It did not factor into Elliott’s suspension, either. Soon after, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said that Elliott was still learning how to navigate fame.
“As you well know, because of his style and personality, it’s like a rock star wherever he goes in terms of attention,” Jones told reporters. “Anybody that’s experienced that knows that takes getting used to. You have to learn many aspects of that. Certainly Zeke is evolving and being subject to needing to learn how to deal with the media and social media the way it is today.”
Jones was also frustrated with the pace of the investigation, and he spoke to the NFL’s special counsel Lisa Friel, who oversees such investigations.
Despite his concern about the length of the probe, Jones said that the league does not condone domestic violence.
"Make no mistake about it, the NFL does not want to — I guess I have to do my disclaimer, but obviously we're not for bullying and we're certainly, certainly, certainly not for the issue of domestic violence,” Jones said via ESPN.com.
Just before he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last week, Jones said he wasn’t expecting a suspension for Elliott.
One of the final steps of the investigation came in May, when the NFLPA handed over Elliott’s phone records and other documents to the league. Elliott met with league investigators last October and with NFL officials earlier this month, according to NFL Network’s Tom Pelissero.
The first violation of the league’s personal conduct policy carries a six-game suspension, but the suspension can be reduced for mitigating circumstances.
Elliott tweeted a statement from his personal account after the suspension was handed down, saying he disagreed with the NFL’s decision while also apologizing to fans:
Elliott played college football for three seasons at Ohio State. He was selected by the Cowboys with the fourth overall pick in the 2016 NFL draft. Elliott led the league with 1,631 rushing yards in his rookie season.
Elliott can participate in all preseason activities. His suspension will begin Sept. 2 and he can return to the Cowboys’ roster on Monday, Oct. 23.