This morning, Tiffany Thompson posted two sets of photos of her bruised body to Instagram, saying, “Just for every women out there getting abused it’s time to put a stop to it.” She described being thrown across the room by her arms, thrown into walls, and choked to the point she had to grasp for air. She didn’t specifically accuse her boyfriend, rookie Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott, of being the person who hit her, but she did tag him in her second post.
Police reports, a 911 call, and responses from Elliott’s camp soon followed. Anyone hoping law enforcement records would provide clarity got the opposite.
At some point, a 911 call came in with a woman saying she wanted an officer to come. She had planned to wait until tomorrow, when her boyfriend left, to report domestic violence but has changed her mind. Her boyfriend has been doing “it” for the past five days.
The first police report had Thompson saying that Elliott beat her, and Elliott saying that her bruises were from a bar fight she got in. Thompson said she had lived with Elliott for three months within the last year; Elliott denied that, but said he did pay for her rent and was a co-signer on her car. The second report, from less than 10 minutes after the first, has Thompson saying she was assaulted in a residential parking lot. One person told police she was in the car at the time and didn’t see Elliott assault Thompson. Three other witnesses told police they were in the parking lot and didn’t see Elliott assault Thompson. Elliott again denied hitting her.
Both police reports end with police referring the case to prosecutors without filing charges themselves. Both police reports say photos were taken, although of what isn’t clear. One says “DV photos”; the other says “photographs of injuries/scene.” Columbus police told me the photos can’t be released because they are investigatory work product in an active case.
Even a typically boring information field drew attention. The first report identifies Elliott as a Cowboys player and Thompson as a “sex slave.” I asked police spokeswoman Denise Alex-Bouzounis why Thompson was listed as that. She told me, “She filled that out. That is what she wrote.” The second report identifies Elliott as a Cowboys player, while giving no job listing for Thompson.
All of this presents a void, within which any number of narratives about what happened between Elliott and Thompson seem plausible. Into the void, ready to complete the “bitches be crazy” narrative for anyone who wants it, jump anonymous NFL sources.
As of publication, these text messages have been reported on, but their actual contents haven’t been published. Meanwhile, former Cowboy Michael Irvin has also jumped in, promising to eventually give us all the truth.
This was followed by a statement from Elliott’s father saying the claims are false and the evidence shows “the real motivation” behind calling the police.
All of these images, police reports, 911 calls, statements, and reports on what sources say describe an uncomfortable reality, like that within which many cases of domestic violence exist. Elliott might be completely innocent; he might be a victim of blackmail; if he is, he might be being blackmailed (or “set up”) over photos of violence he actually committed:
Whatever the truth is, we don’t yet know. But we do know that there’s no logical inconsistency in contemplating Elliott as, possibly, both perpetrator and victim.
In domestic violence, there are rarely perfect victims and rarely purely evil perpetrators. Anybody expecting to see a perfect monster in Elliott, Greg Hardy, or any person accused of domestic violence will almost certainly be let down. Abusers can be and often are great people to those outside the abusive relationship, harkening back to the reasoning police used for decades to never make domestic violence arrests—it was a “family matter.” And yet domestic violence is such a part of everyday American life that the CDC estimates that one in four women and one in seven men have been the victim of “severe physical violence by an intimate partner.” Lots of nice people also beat the shit out of their loved ones.
Those same impossible standards double back on victims. While pundits expect evil daggers and flames to spout from the eyeballs of every person accused of domestic violence, they leave very little room for the truth: Just as most abusers have their redeeming traits, most victims are imperfect. Yes, the ranks of the victimized include well-off, blonde-haired, doting moms like Nicole Brown Simpson. But they also include the working poor, people trying to beat drug addiction, prostitutes, and people with whom you wouldn’t trust your last $2. The question is, does being less than perfect make them responsible for the violence? Do selfish or even cruel motivations for reporting mean the evidence of violence can be excused?
Nobody knows yet what really happened between Thompson and Elliott except Thompson and Elliott, and neither side has spoken out directly. Elliott will have an advantage in the press—he has an entire Cowboys PR team that will be deeply invested in showing they did not add another Greg Hardy to their roster. Because so much of the evidence in domestic violence cases can go away once a victim refuses to cooperate with the state, I already have images of Cowboys-themed checkbooks in my mind. Thinking about good men doing horrible things and horrible women who are nonetheless very real victims, or any of the many permutations there that involve each party being described along a moral axis that runs from the better to the worse, is complicated. Cutting checks in hopes of making sure no one has to reckon with it? That’s much easier by far.