Good­ell makes right call on Elliott

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - bill.plaschke@la­times.com Twit­ter: @Bil­lPlaschke

The NFL has found it­self in the mid­dle of an­other do­mes­tic vi­o­lence mess, and, once again, out­rage is spread­ing across the land. Only this time, it is a dif­fer­ent, un­set­tling kind of out­rage.

Ezekiel Elliott, the mar­quee run­ning back for foot­ball’s mar­quee Dal­las Cow­boys, has been sus­pended for six games for vi­o­lat­ing the league’s per­sonal con­duct pol­icy amid al­le­ga­tions of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

There was never an ar­rest or criminal pros­e­cu­tion, but there were pho­tos of al­leged abu­sive in­ci­dents with a former girl­friend in July 2016. There was never any video, but there were reams of tes­ti­mony sup­ported by med­i­cal ex­perts.

There was no le­gal proof of any­thing, but the league’s in­ves­tiga­tive team com­piled more than 100 ex­hibits in a re­port that ex­ceeded 160 pages and came to the con­clu­sion that Elliott had clearly vi­o­lated the league’s broad per­sonal con­duct pol­icy.

“There is substantial and per­sua­sive ev­i­dence sup­port­ing a find­ing that [Elliott] en­gaged in phys­i­cal vi­o­lence,” it said in a let­ter that the league sent to Elliott.

Shame on Elliott, right? Nope. The nar­ra­tive across the sports land­scape Fri­day af­ter­noon was, shame on the NFL. The ma­jor­ity of talk was not about NFL play­ers’ con­tin­ued pat­tern of vi­o­lence to­ward women, but about how the NFL dras­ti­cally re­shaped the sea­son for those poor Dal­las Cow­boys.

How could they sus­pend a player when he wasn’t even charged with a crime?

How can they sus­pend Gi­ants kicker Josh Brown for one game for ad­mit­tedly hit­ting his wife or sus­pend Greg Hardy four games af­ter he was found guilty of as­sault­ing a fe­male, and yet dock Zeke six games for be­ing con­victed of noth­ing?

How could the NFL sim­ply be­lieve the word of former girl­friend Tif­fany Thomp­son in­stead of Elliott? How could he miss more than one-third of the sea­son — and some say po­ten­tially hurt the Cow­boys’ ti­tle chances — sim­ply be­cause he loses a bat­tle of “he said, she said?”

All of th­ese ques­tions, while per­ti­nent to the val­ues of the Amer­i­can jus­tice sys­tem, are not rel­e­vant to the NFL. The NFL is not a public court­room, it is a pri­vate busi­ness. The NFL makes decisions based not on any judge’s gavel, but in the best in­ter­ests of its busi­ness.

Roger Good­ell, the much­crit­i­cized NFL com­mis­sioner, made the right call here. Work­ing from be­hind a bat­tered NFL shield, he made a bold move to strengthen it.

Good­ell saw bil­lows of smoke and cor­rectly de­ter­mined fire. He didn’t need for­mal charges to show him Thomp­son’s cell­phone pho­tos of the al­leged abuse. He didn’t need a subpoena to hear med­i­cal ex­perts val­i­date the na­ture of Thomp­son’s pho­tos and tes­ti­mony. And he cer­tainly didn’t need some law to tell him of the ab­so­lute ridicu­lous­ness of Elliott’s de­fense.

His rep­re­sen­ta­tives said Thomp­son might have fallen down some stairs or, bet­ter yet, bumped into ta­ble while she was work­ing as a res­tau­rant server. Se­ri­ously? Are we still al­low­ing our beloved ath­letes to skate on such ex­cuses?

“There is an eye­wit­ness here. The eye­wit­ness is Tif­fany Thomp­son her­self. She is a vic­tim and a sur­vivor,” said Peter Har­vey, a former at­tor­ney gen­eral for New Jersey who helped work the league’s year­long in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

It isn’t like Good­ell made the easy call here. This de­ci­sion is like a jab to the league’s mid­sec­tion. No team drives the TV rat­ings like the Cow­boys. No owner has been more re­spon­si­ble for the league’s bil­lion-dol­lar suc­cess than Cow­boy owner Jerry Jones, who is surely steam­ing mad.

And few play­ers have cap­tured the league’s imag­i­na­tion like Elliott, who led the league in rush­ing last sea­son with 1,631 yards and scor­ing 15 rush­ing touch­downs.

For years, the NFL was ac­cused of cov­er­ing up or ig­nor­ing off-field vi­o­lence — wit­ness the Ray Rice de­ba­cle. This same league should now be ap­plauded by risk­ing se­ri­ous dol­lars to bring th­ese is­sues to light.

There is prece­dent for sus­pen­sion with­out le­gal sup­port. Re­mem­ber back in 2010 when Pitts­burgh Steel­ers’ quar­ter­back Ben Roeth- lis­berger was sus­pended four games just for be­ing a bad guy? Heck, re­mem­ber last fall when New Eng­land quar­ter­back Tom Brady was sus­pended four games be­cause Good­ell thought he had cheated.

Good­ell spent the sea­son feel­ing the back­lash of the Brady sus­pen­sion, cul­mi­nat­ing when he awk­wardly handed the Pa­tri­ots the Lom­bardi Tro­phy af­ter their stir­ring Su­per Bowl come­back vic­tory.

He will feel the same heat here. Fans who de­spise do­mes­tic vi­o­lence will rip him for bench­ing their fa­vorite player sim­ply be­cause that do­mes­tic vi­o­lence is only in pho­tos and not in a ver­dict. Fans who would never at­tempt to solve a prob­lem with anger will crit­i­cize him for pe­nal­iz­ing an al­leged pat­tern of solv­ing prob­lems with anger.

Ev­ery­body needs to just chill. Elliott will be tem­po­rar­ily gone, but the Cow­boys aren’t go­ing any­where. Their of­fen­sive line is so pow­er­ful, you could run be­hind it for six games. Dak Prescott is still the quar­ter­back? And this is still a quar­ter­back league? If the Pa­tri­ots can lose Brady for a month and win a Su­per Bowl, the Cow­boys can lose Elliott for six weeks and be just fine.

Re­lax. Your fan­tasy league will sur­vive, while the real league just got stronger.

Gus Rue­las As­so­ci­ated Press

COW­BOYS run­ning back Ezekiel Elliott, shown sign­ing au­to­graphs in Ox­nard last month, was ac­cused by an ex-girl­friend of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, which he de­nies.

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