The NFL's letter to Ezekiel Elliott detailing and its initial public comments on the ruling -- the nuanced and measured and forthright tone it appears to have taken with this particular domestic violence investigation -- suggests the league may be learning from its varied past missteps in this regard.
But not everyone still gets it. There is still such a long ways to go.
Given the preponderance of evidence the league presented regarding three separate altercations between Ezekiel EIliott and Tiffany Thompson in the same week of July 2016, and the stern language of both commissioner Roger Goodell in his letter to the running back and the firm statements from attorney Peter Harvey, the former Attorney General for New Jersey who led the NFL's chief advisors of its investigation, it's become increasingly clear that others in supreme positions of football leadership should have conducted themselves with significantly more grace, sensitivity and aplomb.
Jerry Jones, I'm talking to you.
There are no winners in this case, as the scourge of domestic violence taints all corridors of our society. It isn't a football problem, but the ongoing heavy-handedness and tone deaf responses by some in the football community to domestic violence in essence brand it as such. And the comments by Jones over the past six-plus months look even more foolish and heartless now. When the owner of one of the NFL's signature franchises, who generates the most revenue and commands massive sway over his peers -- and who was just inducted into the Hall of Fame -- has been basically telling the world "nothing to see here, my running back's going to be ready for Week 1, they got nothin' on him" for months ... well, the NFL still has a problem.
"There is just nothing," Jones literallyabout the ongoing investigation.
Whenlast week, just before his induction speech, "the domestic violence is not an issue," in regards to the Elliott investigation and asserts that he does not "anticipate" any suspension, the NFL still has a problem. When numerous third parties witness him, in a crowded bar this winter, during an NFL owner's meeting, with one of the league's domestic violence investigators over the case, the NFL still has a problem.
Especially after Goodell's letter asserts that all four of the outside advisers who analyzed the league's investigation (Harvey, NFL Hall of Famer Ken Houston, CEO of The Women of Color Network Tonya Lovelace, and former US States Attorney Mary Jo White) "concluded individually that there is substantial and pervasive evidence supporting a finding that (Elliott) engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016."
At the very least, the Hall of Fame owner owes Thompson a deep and sincere apology. One would think a man of his means might begin to try to atone by making a hefty donation to The House of Ruth or other such, and one could only hope that moving forward those in leadership and authority positions of NFL clubs keep their mouths shut publicly and privately as the league investigates their players, no matter how dynamic and important they might be.
Given Goodell's letter, the NFL had no recourse but to apply -- finally -- its six-game, first-time discipline for domestic violence to Elliott. According to the league, during "the early morning" hours of July 17, 2016 there was an altercation at an apartment in which Elliott and Thompson were present in Columbus in which he used "physical force" that caused injuries to her "arms, neck and shoulders." On the "morning" of July 19 at the same apartment, Elliott "used physical force" that injured her "face, arms, wrist and hands." And during the "early morning" of July 21, at that same apartment, he "used physical force" to injure her "face, neck, arms, knee and hip."
The league says the Columbus DA, while not moving forward with charges, "generally believed her for all of the incidents." There was metadata proving the pictures were taken more or less "In real time," to use Harvey's words, with a time and date stamp tracing to when Elliott was with her. Harvey said Elliott's legal representatives offered theories about Thompson possibly getting in a fight with another woman or bumping into a table while at work, but it was far from convincing.
"The suggestion was made, maybe someone else did it," Harvey said during a media conference call Friday. "Except there was never someone else who was revealed and identified as someone who would have done it … What the NFL's investigators learned is that on at least four nights Mr. Elliott and Ms. Thompson stayed together in the same apartment in the same bedroom. So the injuries did not just -- at least in my judgement -- magically appear on her body. So while alternative theories are interesting, in my judgement they have to be supported by evidence, and that was lacking in this particular situation."
The case, as presented by the NFL, appears quite convincing, at least to me. And I have a hard time, in light of it, coming up with a scenario in which Elliott's lawyers and/or the NFLPA present enough to the contrary to warrant a lesser suspension upon appeal, though it is absolutely within their rights to pursue one. After looking into this for over a year, and having already gone back and forth with Elliott and his representatives, I'd suggest to the NFL to maintain their decision to apply that six-game policy here.
But then, juxtapose what the NFL has just presented to what Jones would have you believe about his star running back's behaviors and the league's probe into them (keep in mind that the team also has considerable security and investigative resources itself should it really want to delve into such matters).
Jones in January:
"I don't want to get ahead, because that's obviously somebody other than me, but I'm well aware of all of the circumstances involved there and have felt good about it since training camp. And have seen nothing that in any way would make me think any differently than we felt shortly after it became a point."
Jones in March:
"Absolutely nothing anywhere that indicates anything other than what they told us when we left training camp, and that is that they have no cause."
"There is just nothing. I know I would have heard about it. I would have the information if there were something. I know that."
Jones last week during the Hall of Fame broadcast:
"The domestic violence is not an issue. Zeke has had some other things that have been looked at and are being looked at. But from the domestic violence issue, there's not an issue. I think that my hope is that Zeke is with us opening night, and I don't want to get into anything that might in any way influence negatively that decision from the league office."
I asked Joe Lockhart, the league's top communications chief, if the NFL had any response to these repeated utterances by perhaps its most influential owner on an ongoing investigation. Does it strike anyone else as unseemly the kind of cavalier, nothing-to-see-here remarks he consistently made through what should be a pristine process (the league itself never comments on ongoing investigations as a rule)? How must that have sounded to Thompson and her loved ones throughout the ongoing ordeal? What message is being sent?
It's fair to say that Lockhart parsed his words carefully. Upon repeated listening to my recording of the media session, Lockhart said the following in response to my query:
"I don't think we have a comment, one way or the other, on anything that anyone else in this case, that involved in this case or looked at this case, or commented on this case. I can say that we believe this investigation was thorough, exhaustive and fair to all parties involved."
So, um, yeah, not even a hint of a verbal slap on the wrist to Mr. Jones about such regrettable comments. Not that I expected one.
Most importantly, the process, as handled from Park Avenue, appears to have been conducted in a commendable manner. If only the same could be said for the man atop of the Cowboys' organization.
If Jones knew what the NFL was learning, through whatever backchannels, and still spoke out like this, shame on him. And if he spoke in such a cavalier fashion without any true indications of what the league was discerning, shame on him for that as well.