Editor’s note: This story has been updated.
NEW YORK — Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension by the NFL is set to be reinstated Tuesday night after a federal district judge late Monday in New York denied the Cowboys running back’s motion for a preliminary injunction after a two-hour hearing.
Katherine Polk Failla rejected Elliott and the NFL Players Association’s claims that the NFL conspired against Elliott to prevent him from receiving a fundamentally fair appeal. She granted a 24-hour stay on her ruling so that Elliott, who attended the hearing Monday evening in New York, can consider appellate options in the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. But after fighting since the suspension was issued Aug. 11, Elliott has few speedy options left in this on-again, off-again battle.
If the suspension stands, Elliott will miss the upcoming games against the Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins and New York Giants. He’s due to return Dec. 17 for the final three games of the regular season, beginning with the Oakland Raiders.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell ruled more than two months ago that the NFL’s year-long investigation found that Elliott used physical force against a former girlfriend on three occasions in July 2016 in Columbus, Ohio. Elliott strongly denied the charges.
The second-year star player was able to secure an injunction in the Eastern District of Texas on Sept. 8 and then a temporary restraining order in the Southern District of New York earlier this month while Failla was out of town.
But Failla’s ruling dissolving the TRO and likely, finally, signals the end of the line for Elliott’s fight. He had played in all seven of 4-3 Dallas’ games so far this season. The Cowboys are built on his ability to run the football.
In her ruling, Failla concluded that Elliott and the union failed to demonstrate that it deserved the extraordinary relief of an injunction.
Jeffrey Kessler, lawyer for Elliott and the NFLPA, claimed Elliott didn’t receive a fair appeal process because: The NFL’s lead investigator found there wasn’t enough evidence to support a suspension but the finding was not included in the final “Elliott Report”; the union wasn’t allowed to examine Goodell about what he knew of the investigator’s judgment; and Elliott’s accuser, Tiffany Thompson, wasn’t made to testify at the arbitration hearing. The NFL’s notes about its interviews with Thompson were also not included.
‘Them’s Fighting Words’
But Elliott and the union had tried to fight this case in Texas instead of New York for a reason. Failla agreed with previous findings, notably the “Deflategate” case involving New England quarterback Tom Brady, that courts have very narrow room to interfere with arbitral decisions.
The judge ruled that the proceedings, in their totality, accorded with the collective bargaining agreement and NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Essentially, Goodell and the NFL did enough, even if it could be viewed as minimal, to cover their requirements outlined in the CBA.
Kia Roberts, the lead investigator in question, was made to testify at Elliott’s appeal hearing and co-authored the investigative report.
Failla quizzed Kessler about the claims of a conspiracy by the NFL, noting, “Them’s Fighting Words.”
“You don’t willy-nilly vacate arbitration awards,” NFL lawyer Paul Clement argued Monday. “There’s no fundamental unfairness about holding parties to terms of the arbitration agreement.”
Clement also warned that a ruling against the NFL here could signal that accusers always had to testify against alleged abusers, which could hurt the league’s ability to root out domestic violence.
Elliott’s hearing Monday took place at the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Lower Manhattan, steps from the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge.
With the courtroom’s elegant pale yellow paint, white trim and brass chandeliers, Elliott, in his suit and glasses, entered a far different setting from the night before when he ran over the Washington Redskins in the pouring rain as Dallas put together its first winning streak of the season.
It was also light years from the sleepy courthouse in Sherman, when Elliott attended a similar hearing to earn his first injunction in September. Fans then lined up around the courthouse to see the spectacle and wave signs of support.
Courtroom sketch artists Monday studied Elliott observing the proceedings as they worked.
Elliott left the courthouse with his representatives as a mini media mob watched him hop in a waiting SUV. The running back was hopeful that he would appear again soon at Cowboys practices at The Star in Frisco and Dallas’ remaining games.
But after making it seven games into the season, it looks like it’s going to be a long wait for Zeke and the Cowboys.
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