Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is expected to appeal his six-game suspension, something his representatives announced their client would do.
A hearing could be held as soon as next week, and the same person who endorsed the decision to penalize Elliott for domestic violence allegations has the ultimate say on his appeal: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
What happens when the appeal is filed?
Will Elliott be able to play as the appeal is heard, decided?
The six-game ban would begin Sept. 2. At that point, Elliott would not be allowed into the Cowboys' training facilities until the suspension ends Oct. 23. However he could be on the field for Week 1 if the suspension is overturned or he winds up pursuing a legal course that temporarily lifts the ban.
Why does Goodell have ultimate authority?
Terms of the NFL's personal conduct policy were part of the collective bargaining agreement between the league and players union — and Goodell has broad authority to punish players for "conduct detrimental" to the game.
Goodell could oversee the appeal, but it's also within his authority to designate an arbitrator as he has done previously, including when Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy appealed their personal conduct suspensions. Former NFL executive Harold Henderson heard those appeals.
Goodell served as arbitrator for Tom Brady's Deflategate appeal and upheld the New England Patriots quarterback's original ban of four games. Brady later challenged the commissioner's authority to impose the suspension. A federal appeals court ultimately ruled that Goodell "properly exercised his broad discretion under the collective bargaining agreement," though implementation of Brady's penalty wound up being delayed a full season.
Why might Goodell choose to tap an arbitrator?
David S. Weinstein, a former assistant U.S. attorney and current partner at the firm Clarke Silverglate, told USA TODAY Sports that while Goodell has the authority to serve as the arbitrator, that doesn't necessarily mean he should — especially if Elliott pursues the case in court.
"It would therefore be in Commissioner Goodell's best interests to select a neutral arbitrator," Weinstein said. "A neutral arbitrator who reached a similar conclusion based on the same facts, would support the argument that the commissioner did not abuse his discretion."
What are the potential outcomes in the appeal?
The ban could be upheld, reduced or dismissed. Elliott cannot be suspended any more than the six games he's already been docked. He received the minimum ban under the NFL's domestic violence policy, introduced in 2014 in the wake of then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice's assault of his then-fiancee and current wife.
What would Elliott and his reps argue at an appeal?
Elliott's camp previewed potential arguments last week.
“The NFL's findings are replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions and it ‘cherry picks’ so called evidence to support its conclusion while ignoring other critical evidence," Elliott's agents said in a statement.
Elliott was not arrested or charged for an alleged assault in Columbus, Ohio, in July of 2016, though the NFL listed the incident as the primary reason he was punished. The NFL wrote in a letter to Elliott explaining his suspension that a suspension can be handed down “if the credible evidence established that (a player) engaged in conduct prohibited" by the personal conduct policy.
Elliott is expected to introduce text messages between himself and his accuser, the Fort Worth (Texas) Star-Telegram reported Monday.
“You better be smart. And not be a dumb man," one of the texts to Elliott from the accuser said.
USA TODAY Sports does not name alleged victims of domestic violence.
Elliott has denied he had a physical altercation with the accuser.
In a statement released last year, Elliott quoted the woman saying: “I am going to ruin your career. You have messed with the wrong person.”
How soon after an appeal will a decision be announced?
There is no firm timetable set forth in Article 46 of the CBA, which states a written decision would be made "as soon as practicable following the conclusion."
What are Elliott's legal options if his suspension is upheld?
Elliott, as other players have in recent years, could seek a preliminary injunction in federal court. If one is granted, his suspension would be put on hold before an evidentiary hearing takes place.
For a judge to grant even an emergency injunction, he would have to spell out exactly why the NFL acted outside its authority to suspend Elliott.
"The grounds for vacating a labor arbitration (decison) are extremely limited," sports business attorney Daniel Wallach said. "Any hope for an injunction hinges on identifying a fundamental procedural error."
Any more particulars about the appeals hearing?
The hearing could be conducted in person or via telephone/video conference.
Elliott and the league must exchange exhibits they expect to use no later than three days before the hearing. Goodell or his designated arbitrator can request additional information, which would be due within three business days of the hearing.
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