Ezekiel Elliott’s appeal hearing for his six-game suspension concluded today—with the NFL’s lead investigator, Kia Roberts, reportedly testifying that she had recommended Elliott not be suspended, only to find her recommendation missing from the league’s final report.
Per the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Roberts testified that after interviewing Tiffany Thompson, Elliott’s former girlfriend, she recommended that Elliott not be suspended by the league. Thompson accused the running back of domestic violence last summer. But Roberts’s recommendation was not included in the NFL’s final report on the situation, and according to what a source told the Star-Telegram about today’s testimony, she was barred from a meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the league’s discipline of Elliott.
It’s those failures of the process that Elliott and the NFLPA attacked during the appeal hearing and plan to exploit if they have to go to federal court to seek a temporary injunction.
That Roberts’ recommendation didn’t make it into the report and Roberts not being involved in the decision making, even though she ran point on the fact finding with the accuser, are trap doors that could come back to haunt the NFL if this goes to federal court.
Lisa Friel, the league’s senior vice president for investigations, was reportedly the person to recommend a six-game suspension and the person to bar Roberts from the meeting with Goodell. Last fall, an ESPN reporter had reportedly witnessed Cowboys owner Jerry Jones angrily confronting Friel about the league’s investigation into Elliott.
The appeal decision is in the hands of arbitrator Harold Henderson, who is reportedly under pressure to make a decision in the next few days. The Cowboys open the regular season against the Giants on Sept. 10.
Elliott’s suspension, announced almost three weeks ago, ended a 13-month NFL investigation. Thompson first accused him of domestic abuse with social media photos of her bruised body last July. The Columbus, Ohio, police department declined to press charges, citing “conflicting and inconsistent information across all incidents resulting in concern regarding the sufficiency of the evidence.” One witness told prosecutors that Thompson had asked her to lie to police about the alleged assault and provided text messages that appeared to show as much. Principal assistant city attorney Robert S. Tobias later told USA Today, “I personally believe that there were a series of interactions between Mr. Elliott and (his accuser) where violence occurred. However, given the totality of the circumstances, I could not firmly conclude exactly what happened.”
In issuing the suspension, the NFL said that it found “substantial and persuasive evidence” that Elliott had abused Thompson. Today’s testimony, however, would seem to be another sign the league has neither a coherent process here nor consistent standards for enforcing it.