NEW YORK — The league and Cowboys don’t agree on much when it comes to the investigation into the allegations of domestic violence against Ezekiel Elliott.
But they can come together here—Elliott needs a wake-up call. And both can hope that the six-game suspension the NFL handed down on Friday provides that for him.
After mishandling the Ray Rice and Josh Brown situations, the league is more apt now than ever to issue strong discipline in cases of domestic violence. The NFL realized it needed to be tougher on players and others under its purview, and more thorough in its investigations even when there is no conviction or even charges from the legal system.
The two domestic violence allegations against Elliott, both lodged by the same woman, occurred in February and July of 2016, the first in Florida and the second in Columbus after Elliott was drafted in the first round by the Cowboys. In each case, police did not charge him, citing insufficient evidence and conflicting accounts. However, the league said that in the course of its investigation it found “substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence” against the victim “on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016.” Elliott has three days to appeal the decision.
This was a case in which league officials weren’t going to rush a decision and risk new information coming to light, or risk Elliott making them look bad again. Indeed, while the NFL conducted its investigation, two other incidents occurred. On March 13 of this year, video emerged of Elliott pulling a woman’s top down at a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dallas. Four months later, on July 17, Elliott was connected to a late-night bar fight (an investigation by Dallas police was suspended). The league said it considered the St. Patrick’s Day incident, and though it didn’t warrant separate discipline, it suggested “a pattern of poor judgment and behavior for which effective intervention is necessary for your personal and professional welfare.”
Below is the letter the NFL sent to Elliott, detailing its findings:
Add all this to Elliott’s reputation coming out of Ohio State two springs ago, and a more vivid picture comes clear. Both he and Buckeyes teammate Joey Bosa drew concerns from teams in the run-up to the 2016 draft over their partying. Bosa was suspended for a game at the start of Ohio State’s 2015 season and told clubs he moved out of an apartment he shared with Elliott after that because he knew what was on the line.
Elliott, meanwhile, soaked in the stardom that came with being the bell cow of the reigning national champions during his final season in Columbus. “Joey got suspended, and he loved football too much, he had to get away from it,” said one area scout assigned to Ohio State. “[Elliott] was smart enough to keep [out of trouble], but he loved the party scene. And by the time 2015 rolled around, he was doing it in downtown Columbus more, not with the college kids. You just knew, ‘This guy gets after it.’ ”
For that reason, the scout said, it was clear there’d be challenges for a player who loves the trappings of stardom and the fame that comes with being a Cowboy in North Texas.
The flip side? Elliott’s always been able to produce on the field. During that 2015 season, after his star turn, Elliott rushed for 1,823 yards and 23 touchdowns for the 12-1 Buckeyes. Last year he showed up to Cowboys camp overweight, at 231 pounds, and still won the NFL rushing title as a rookie for a 13-3 Cowboys team.
• THE EZEKIEL ELLIOTT INVESTIGATION: From last December, The MMQB’s Tim Rohan looked at details of the incidents in question, why the probe was taking so long and how the NFL’s new domestic violence policies played a part
That should explain why, as the same rumors that dogged him in Columbus have followed him in Dallas, there may not have been a lot of motivation on his part to change.
If you listen to what Jerry Jones has said the last few weeks, it’s clear that the Cowboys aren’t going to be pleased with the NFL’s decision on this one. But if there’s a silver lining for them, it’s that Elliott may finally become motivated to manage his off-field life in the way so many big, burgeoning NFL stars do.
Suffice it to say, with Elliott becoming one of the faces of one of the league’s biggest teams, the NFL must hope he gets the message, too.
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