NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was aware that one of his lead investigators believed Ezekiel Elliott shouldn’t be disciplined before the Dallas running back was suspended for six games in a domestic violence case, league spokesman Brian McCarthy said Friday.
McCarthy disputed a key claim in a lawsuit filed by the players’ union on behalf of Elliott seeking to vacate an upcoming ruling on an appeal. McCarthy says Goodell knew of investigator Kia Roberts’ contention that Elliott’s accuser wasn’t credible before deciding to suspend Elliott.
“That Kia Roberts’ information was not provided to others, that’s categorically false,” McCarthy said. “Her views were represented. The commissioner was aware of her views, aware of many other people’s views.”
Arbitrator Harold Henderson is expected to rule on Elliott’s appeal soon. The lawsuit filed late Thursday night in federal court in Texas seeks to pre-empt Henderson’s ruling with the intent of making Elliott eligible to play in the season opener Sept. 10 against the New York Giants.
Elliott, the NFL’s 2016 rushing leader as a rookie, was suspended after the league concluded he used physical force last summer in Ohio against Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time.
According to the letter Elliott received informing him of the suspension three weeks ago, the NFL believed he used “physical force” three times in a span of five days in a Columbus, Ohio, apartment last July resulting in injuries to Thompson’s face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, wrists, hips and knees.
Prosecutors didn’t pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence, but the NFL investigated for more than a year. Elliott denied Thompson’s allegations under oath in an appeal hearing that spanned three days. The hearing ended Thursday, about 12 hours before the lawsuit was filed.
The lawsuit says the NFL’s appeals process is “fundamentally unfair” because Henderson denied a request by Elliott’s representatives to have Thompson testify. The suit accuses NFL special counsel Lisa Friel of withholding information from Goodell and four experts who advised the commissioner before his ruling.
“Not only did the underlying facts not support the false allegations made against Mr. Elliott, but the process in which they were gathered and adjudicated were fundamentally unfair,” Elliott attorney Frank Salzano said Friday.
McCarthy said the league was “very confident” in its investigation.
“It’s an uncontested Hail Mary is what this approach is,” McCarthy said. “Once again, the commissioner relied on a variety of evidence and not one single statement from a single witness.”
There was no immediate ruling from U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in Sherman, Texas, about 65 miles north of Dallas. No hearings were immediately scheduled.
Elliott’s case differs from the four-game suspension for New England quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate case in that Brady’s legal team waited until after Goodell denied the appeal to sue in federal court.
The suspension was overturned, but the NFL won on appeal. Brady served the suspension to start the 2016 season, a year later than the discipline was issued.
The NFL’s personal conduct policy was amended three years ago to stiffen penalties in domestic cases. Friel was hired as a result of the changes, which came after the NFL was sharply criticized for its handling of a case involving former Baltimore running back Ray Rice.
The six-game ban Elliott received is the standard for what the NFL views as a first offense in a domestic case, with the possibility of shorter or longer suspensions depending on aggravating or mitigating factors. The league said there were no such factors in Elliott’s case.
Henderson has heard dozens of appeals, including New Orleans running back Adrian Peterson’s in a child abuse case out of Texas when Peterson was with Minnesota. Henderson denied Peterson’s appeal of a suspension, but a federal judge overturned Henderson’s ruling.