El­liott would be wise to heed wake- up call

Chicago Sun-Times - - SPORTS - Jar­rett Bell jbell@us­ato­day.com USA TO­DAY Sports

Maybe the six- game sus­pen­sion for Ezekiel El­liott — and the state­ment the damned- if- they- do, damned- if- they- don’t NFL needed to make against do­mes­tic vi­o­lence — will be a much- needed wake- up call.

Even with the vast gray area at­tached to the case, in­clud­ing Tif­fany Thomp­son ly­ing to po­lice about get­ting yanked out of a car by El­liott, the Dal­las Cow­boys star has been seem­ingly liv­ing on the edge.

No, El­liott has never been ar­rested or charged in any of the in­ci­dents where his name has popped up.

But the mul­ti­ple in­ci­dents that prompted the NFL’s 13- month in­ves­ti­ga­tion, in ad­di­tion to an­other episode in Florida in 2016, on top of al­le­ga­tions that he broke a man’s nose dur­ing a melee in a Dal­las night­club and also the fool­ish de­ci­sion to pull down a woman’s top in pub­lic — while un­der NFL in­ves­ti­ga­tion, mind you — cost El­liott enor­mous ben­e­fit of the doubt.

“I ad­mit that I am far from per­fect,” El­liott said on Twit­ter on Fri­day, “but I plan to con­tinue to work very hard, on and off the field, to ma­ture and earn the right op­por­tu­nity that I have been given.”

Dude, grow up fast … be­fore your po­ten­tially amaz­ing ca­reer is over.

El­liott, 22, is hardly the first young, rich and fa­mous foot­ball player to hang out on the wild side. But that’s no ex­cuse for cross­ing the line marked by do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, even when this case is com­pli­cated by an ap­par­ent threat from Thomp­son, his for­mer girl­friend, to “ruin” his ca­reer.

Surely, there are bones to pick with the NFL’s process in this mat­ter, which can be flushed out dur­ing El­liott’s ap­peal. As wellinten­tioned as the league’s do­mes­tic vi­o­lence pol­icy might be, play­ers can be tar­gets, too, be­cause of the very get- tough pol­icy the league was com­pelled to in­sti- tute af­ter the Ray Rice fi­asco.

El­liott’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives al­lege that the NFL cherry- picked some ev­i­dence while ig­nor­ing other key ev­i­dence. Con­sid­er­ing some other cases in re­cent years — in­clud­ing De­flate­gate and Boun­ty­gate — the NFL is not above ques­tion when it comes to process, mo­ti­va­tion and con­clu­sions.

Still, some­thing ap­par­ently hap­pened, as the league con­cluded, be­tween El­liott and Thomp­son that left the league lit­tle choice beyond the six- game sus­pen­sion.

Six games com­pared with the one- game ban that for­mer New York Gi­ants kicker Josh Brown — who ad­mit­ted abus­ing his wife — re­ceived last year? The NFL cer­tainly looked silly in weigh­ing “ex­ten­u­at­ing cir­cum­stances” for Brown, who has since not found a job in the league.

But just be­cause NFL of­fi­cials blew it with Brown doesn’t mean they should not have stuck with the six games they con­tended would be the min­i­mum sus­pen­sion when the pol­icy was crafted in 2014. Per­haps it will be re­duced on ap­peal, but at the mo­ment six games rep­re­sents the teeth needed to up­hold the cred­i­bil­ity in the pol­icy that was miss­ing in the Brown case.

Even if El­liott’s ban is re­duced, an­other con­di­tion in his sus­pen­sion is worth not­ing: no more in­ci­dents.

El­liott, the reign­ing NFL rush­ing champ, needs to deal with the re­al­ity of that con­di­tion. For all the tal­ent and charm­ing per­sona wrapped in his youth­ful en­ergy, it would be a shame for him to squan­der his po­ten­tial.

Em­mitt Smith, the Hall of Famer and

all- time rush­ing champ, put it out there when ad­dress­ing El­liott’s case on The Rich Eisen Show.

“This is a time to re­flect and ask fun­da­men­tal ques­tions of one’s self,” Smith told Eisen. “Do I want a real long ca­reer in this Na­tional Foot­ball League, which I can have? Or do I just want to play it year by year and just live for the now? This is about his fu­ture.”

Smith is­sued his mes­sage as such for a rea­son, and the Cow­boys — as coach Ja­son Gar­rett has ac­knowl­edged — re­al­ize that El­liott has to ad­dress his de­ci­sion­mak­ing. Smith pub­licly of­fered to not only be a sound­ing board for El­liott but also an “ac­count­abil­ity part­ner” will­ing to help the young player de­vise a plan for deal­ing with this cri­sis.

El­liott should take up Smith on his of­fer.

In the mean­time, Cow­boys owner Jerry Jones should op­er­ate on that track, too — even while he’s taken aback by the length of the sus­pen­sion.

Maybe Jones is moved to fight the NFL. He’s demon­strated over the years — in­clud­ing his game- chang­ing stances in the 1990s on TV ne­go­ti­a­tions and the Pepsi mar­ket­ing case — just how re­solved he can be when dig­ging in over prin­ci­ples.

But I doubt he can win when the case is in­volv­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

So there’s a teach­ing mo­ment in this for Jones, too. By declar­ing in re­cent weeks that he did not be­lieve there was enough ev­i­dence to war­rant a sus­pen­sion for El­liott, the Cow­boys owner showed a lack of re­spect for the league’s in­ves­tiga­tive process.

Giv­ing Jones the ben­e­fit of the doubt, maybe that was merely wish­ful think­ing rather than a de­lib­er­ate at­tempt to in­flu­ence the case or pub­lic opin­ion. Re­gard­less, Jones has egg on his face now.

Ob­vi­ously, Jones doesn’t want to lose El­liott for six games or even four games.

Yet maybe his best use of en­ergy now will be to help El­liott suc­ceed in the long run, on and off the field.

KIRBY LEE, USA TO­DAY SPORTS

Cow­boys run­ning back Ezekiel El­liott plans to ap­peal the six- game sus­pen­sion handed down by the NFL.

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