We have seen this before, the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association (NFLPA) in a legal battle over a punishment handed down by the league against a player. Last time it was over alleged deflated footballs (Deflategate); this time, it is over allegations of domestic violence against Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliot.
The NFL handed down a 6 game suspension against Elliot, even after the police declined to press charges because of evidence that surfaced and created doubt about the allegations.
Elliot claims the NFL investigated the allegations but decided to omit the evidence that supported Elliot’s innocence.
The court battle started in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas with Judge Amos Mazzant proceeding over the case. The NFLPA filed for a preliminary injunction to stop the suspension from being enforced for the time being. The court granted it and said, “a cloud of fundamental unfairness” is following this case, thus allowing Elliot to play currently.
Judge Mazzant stated that the NFL and the independent arbitrator did not meet procedural requirements required by the collective bargaining agreement during appeals. The requirements that were not fulfilled include the denial of a request by Elliot’s representative to review the investigator’s notes and the ability to cross-examine the commissioner along with the women who made the accusations against Elliot.
“The NFL’s actions demonstrate that from the very beginning of the decision-making process, a cloud of fundamental unfairness followed Elliott. Unfortunately, this cloud followed Elliott into the arbitration proceedings,” Mazzant wrote.
During these proceedings the NFL stated that they would allow Elliot to play in week 1. This may be their first mistake in these proceedings.
The NFL has since filed an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit. This is similar to the course taken in Deflategate. However, this appeal has a low likelihood of success.
By the NFL allowing Elliot to play they showed that there was no harm if Elliot’s suspension did not start immediately. This is going to hurt the appeal filed by the NFL asking for an immediate suspension be put in place. For the NFL to win an appeal, they must show there is “irreparable harm” they will suffer if the suspension is not enforced. The NFL is claiming their irreparable harm is that players will view the collective bargaining agreement as weak and players will have no fear of immediate punishment for a violation of rules.
Kessler and the NFLPA are arguing that the NFL allowing Elliot to play week 1 shows that the NFL is not suffering any harm, much less irreparable harm. They are also claiming Elliot would suffer irreparable harm in that he will never be able to get the six games back that he would miss.
The 5th Circuit only reversed the lower courts decision 7.2% of the time last year.