As suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott took the proverbial witness stand in his own defense at his appeal hearing with the NFL in New York on Tuesday, owner Jerry Jones expressed support for his star player and frustration with the league.
Sources confirmed an NFL Network report that Elliott testified to league arbitrator Harold Henderson in his attempt to get the six-game personal conduct suspension for domestic violence against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson reduced or vacated.
Per a source, the hearing, which began on Tuesday, could stretch two or three days, but at least through Wednesday.
Jones did not attend the hearing, but had a Cowboys lawyer there supporting Elliott’s defense team of Frank Salzano and Scott Rosenblum as well as two attorneys from the National Football League Players Association, Jeffrey Kessler and Heather McPhee, who both have had previous litigation success against NFL.
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Jones continues to maintain that the league had “no evidence” and no cause to suspend Elliott.
Per a source, the league has no verifiable proof that it was Elliott who cause injury to Thompson or was the source of her bruises in photographic and metadata evidence.
The pictures don’t show Elliott in the act of committing domestic violence and there were no witnesses.
So the evidence would not hold up in a court of law, per a source.
“Unfortunately you get confused in this conversation,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “Every person that has any sense at all understands domestic violence and abhors it. On the other hand, I’ve had a lot of experience in this area. For 10 years before I bought the Cowboys, I was the head of battered women of Arkansas. I raised more money and been in more safe houses than a lot of people that talk about it and so it’s a terrible problem.
“On the other hand with what we are today and what we’re trying to be relative to addressing it in the league, [it] has all kinds of issues and it should. It’s a very complicated issue because you have no evidence here. That’s all I want to say about it. But it creates quite a convoluted approach by Zeke’s representatives and by the league that I really hate is a focus of all of our attention. I do. Even though others would say that the issue needs this kind of focus and you’re using the NFL for visibility.”
When the league suspended Elliott on Aug. 11, following a 13-month investigation into claims made by former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson, it concluded that there was “substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016.”
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision was aided by a four-member advisory committee, including Peter Harvey, former attorney general of New Jersey; Ken Houston, a Hall of Fame player; Tonya Lovelace, chief executive of the Women of Color Network Inc.; and Mary Jo White, former U.S. attorney and former chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission.
He also cited photographic evidence and testimony of medical professionals.
Again, per a source, the league has no verifiable proof that it Elliott who cause injury to Thompson or was the source of the bruises. The pictures don’t show Elliott in the act of committing domestic violence and there were no witnesses.
So the evidence would not hold up in a court of law, per a source.
It essentially boiled down to a situation of the league believing Thompson more than it did Elliott.
Elliott was never charged or arrested in the incident as the Columbus, Ohio, city attorney’s office cited inconsistent and misleading information.
Elliott’s team promised a vigorous defense, while blasting the league for their “factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions.”
They also promised “a slew of additional credible and controverting evidence will come to light” upon appeal.
They plan to question Thompson’s motive and credibility at the appeal, citing threats to ruin his career and discussions about blackmailing him for sex videos.
The NFL was aware of those incidents when rendering the initial decision.
It’s unlikely that Henderson would vacate the suspension barring the presentation of new evidence, according to a source.
He also will not be inclined to reduce the suspension without any evidence of contrition and admittance of responsibility from Elliott.
If Elliott does sue the NFL in attempt to obtain a temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction, it could delay his suspension, allowing him to open the season with the team.
Henderson could have a decision made as early as Friday when final briefs are due, according to a source.
Jones refused to speculate on a time frame and expressed confidence in Elliott’s defense team.
“He has as qualified a people representing him as I’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “They really have got the first team in there and so these are the kinds of things strategy-wise that you play as you see it. I know that Zeke’s counsel and his direction has been thought through thoroughly, and so I know that to be the case. As you know I am and should be taking the stance of not really commenting on this at this time from the standpoint of a personal role with the Cowboys.”
The Cowboys have tried to support Elliott as much as possible throughout the situation.
Quarterback Dak Prescott tweeted #214 early Tuesday morning. It was a reference to their jersey numbers. Prescott is No. 4 and Elliott is 21.
Elliott made a necklace for each of them emblazoned with a diamond-studded 214.
“We’ve talked a little bit before he left and then just sent him ‘good luck,’ this morning, not exactly knowing what he’s going through, but I support him,” Prescott said.
Coach Jason Garrett also spoke to Elliott before he left and since he’s been in New York, offering support, encouragement and advice.
Garrett expects Elliott would return to Dallas Wednesday if the suspension hearing ended Tuesday.
Neither Elliott nor any of the starters are expected to play in Thursday’s preseason final against Houston Texans.
Garrett hopes Elliott learns from experience, but maintains there were no “red flags,” over his character or off-field issues when speaking to those at Ohio State before the Cowboys picked him fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
“I think the biggest thing we try to do as an organization is provide the right structure for our players and particularly our younger players as they’re getting themselves acclimated to the NFL,” Garrett said. “We have a lot of resources in our building. We consider ourselves as coaches and as resources. We have player-engagement people. We have a lot of different people that can help our players grow and develop and mature. And if something comes up with a particular player, we try to address it head on to try to help him grow and learn from it.”