Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott might be preparing to take NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and the National Football League to court after suffering yet another setback in his quest to appeal his six-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Elliott will miss practice Monday and Tuesday as he prepares for his appeals hearing in New York; however, he hasn’t had much luck of yet in guaranteeing a fair trial. Elliott and his representatives asked the league to appoint a “truly” independent arbitrator for the case. Goodell denied Elliott’s request, citing the article in the collective bargaining agreement which gives him the ability to hear the case himself or appoint whoever he wants.
So, Elliott’s case will be heard by Harold Henderson, Goodell’s recent go-to crony for situations like this.
Henderson, a former chairman of the NFL’s management council executive committee, has heard over 90 appeals, including those of former Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy and former Minnesota Vikings (current New Orleans Saints running back) Adrian Peterson. Henderson reduced Hardy’s suspension from ten games to four, but he kept Peterson’s indefinite suspension for child abuse intact.
Goodell hasn’t used a truly independent arbitrator since former Federal Judge Barbara Walters was put in charge of the Ray Rice case back in 2014. In an embarrassment for the league, Walters ruled in favor of Rice, finding that the league had completely mishandled the situation.
So, now, Goodell either uses someone he can control (e.g., Henderson), or he handles the cases himself (e.g., Tom Brady and Deflatgate).
Cowboys owner Jerry Jones knows Henderson well, but when asked if he felt that Henderson was a fair, neutral party for this appeal, Jones avoided the question.
“Harold is a really great friend of mine,” said Jones. “He was at my [Hall of Fame] party, and so you weren’t at that party unless you were a good friend I promise you that. I don’t know. But he is a friend, and of course, that’s the way it would be. He managed the management council for maybe 15 years I served on it. He’s very competent, but the main thing is he’s a guy that I admire a lot. Former policeman, former attorney. He’s come through it the hard way. Literally.”
Henderson has already made the process difficult for Elliott, as he has denied both verbal testimony and requests for transcripts from the league’s meeting with Tiffany Thompson, Elliott’s ex-girlfriend who he allegedly abused. I’m not a lawyer, but I imagine hearing from the victim is usually a relatively important part of most cases of this nature.
While these denials will make the appeal process more difficult, some argue that they also open the door for a federal court battle, like what Tom Brady went through (and eventually lost) with his scandal and suspension.
Elliott will most likely seek a preliminary injunction from the court to delay the suspension until the court hearing can take place (most likely not until next offseason). Like in Brady’s case, this move would allow Elliott to play out, more than likely, the entire season before having to deal with the appeal and case again.
Of course, an injunction isn’t a guarantee.
Still, those close to the Cowboys organization seem confident that Elliott will be available for their Week One opener against the New York Giants. Head coach Jason Garrett has actually been planning on it.
“That’s the way we have prepared our team,” said Garrett. “He has done a really good job in practice getting ready for Week One. The other guys have gotten a lot of opportunities as well. Obviously, they have gotten a lot more in the preseason games, they have worked with the ones, but we’ve tried to get him ready to play in Week One, understanding the appeal process will get underway.”
An interesting strategy by Garrett. Maybe Jones and the Cowboys know something that we don’t? Or maybe he’s overstating just how many reps Elliott is getting compared with Darren McFadden.
Either way, the big looming question is, and remains, when will Henderson reach a decision? Elliott’s suspension is scheduled to start on September 2 with the Cowboys opening the season on Sunday, September 10.
With the appeal still up in the air, there is a possibility that we could see Elliott on the field against the New York Giants. At this point, that is up to the court.
Either way, the Cowboys Giants season opener promises to be a great one (as it usually is). But, as things stand right now, there’s a possibility that neither Elliott nor Odell Beckham Jr. will be able to participate due to the suspension and injury.
Maybe the court will wait to see how Beckham is doing before making a final decision.
Elliott’s suspension appeal will be stretching into Wednesday and possibly Thursday. Harold Henderson is the arbitrator and Elliott is scheduled to testify under oath at the hearing, and he plans on staying until the end. If his full suspension is upheld with this appeal, he will be barred from any team activities beginning September 2, and he won’t be eligible to play until Week 8 against the Washington Redskins on Oct. 29.