A federal judge Friday granted Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s motion for a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction against a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Elliott had already been allowed to play in Sunday’s season opener against the New York Giants. Now he will probably be on the field for the rest of the season as the case heads to a long court battle between Elliott and his lawyers from the NFL Players Association against the NFL.
U.S. District Judge Amos L. Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas agreed with Elliott’s lawyers that the NFL’s leading rusher last season didn’t receive a “fundamentally fair” hearing in his appeal heard by NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson last week because his accuser was not allowed to testify, nor was NFL commissioner Roger Goodell who decided on the discipline.
Henderson affirmed the league’s decision on Tuesday.
Elliott was suspended by Goodell Aug. 11 after a yearlong investigation into domestic violence allegations by former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
Elliott denied the accusations.
Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, didn’t pursue the case, citing inconsistent and conflicting evidence.
The NFL, however, said it found evidence of Elliott abusing Thompson on three different instances, based on photos, metadata and witness testimony —— even though its lead investigator, Kia Roberts, didn’t find Thompson credible and didn’t think there was enough evidence to warrant a suspension.
In his ruling, Mazzant wrote that “the question of what happened between Elliott and Thompson in July 2016 is not before the Court.”
“The question before the Court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator,” Mazzant wrote. “The answer is he did not. The Court finds, based upon the injunction standard, that Elliott was denied a fundamentally fair hearing by Henderson’s refusal to allow Thompson and Goodell to testify at the arbitration hearing.”
The NFLPA, which accused the league of conspiring to withhold and suppress evidence, responded with a rebuke of the commissioner and the league.
“Commissioner discipline will continue to be a distraction from our game for one reason: because NFL owners have refused to collectively bargain a fair and transparent process that exists in other sports,” a statement by the NFLPA said. “This “imposed” system remains problematic for players and the game, but as the honest and honorable testimony of a few NFL employees recently revealed, it also demonstrates the continued lack of integrity within their own League office.”
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