Ezekiel Elliott has been dealing with a domestic violence cloud hanging over his head for the last 14 months.
He was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Columbus, Ohio city prosecutor’s office a year ago, but was labeled a woman beater by the NFL last month when the league handed him a six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy, citing three instances in which he used physical force against ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
Elliott and the NFL players’ association, though, are fighting to clear his name in the legal system and scored a victory on Friday when a federal judge issued an injunction on the suspension until the case is settled in court.
Elliott made his 2017 debut on Sunday night, rushing for 104 yards in the Cowboys’ 19-3 victory over the New York Giants.
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“It just feels good to be out here,” Elliott said in his first news conference since minicamp in June. “It’s definitely been a tough last 14 months and at times it’s gotten so hard you start to lose faith. But just being able to come in and be with these boys every day has kept me focused and made me not give up. I keep going.”
Asked what the hardest part has been, Elliott said: “Just kind of your name being dragged through the mud. I mean, it’s been, like I said, 14 months. Just kind of being associated with that. That’s tough.”
Elliott, 22, went on to say that he’s looking forward to finally getting “a fair trial.” The judge blasted the NFL appeals process in which arbitrator Harold Henderson did not make commissioner Rodger Goodell or Thompson testify.
“I finally get a chance to prove my innocence,” Elliott said. “And I’m just happy I’m able to be with these guys for as long as it’s permitted and just not having to miss time and not being away from them.”
Elliott didn’t know if he’d be eligible to play the entire season, but this process is expected to last months. Elliott has done his best to block it out even though he’s got a pending legal battle with the NFL.
“It is what it is. I’ve kind of just stopped worrying about it because it’s really out of my hands at this point,” Elliott said. “I’m just really focused right now at being the running back I need to be for this team to be success so we can accomplish what we want to. Just the main focus and keep playing at a high level.
“You just have to block it out. You just have to focus on being the guy I need to be for this team. Being a high-energy guy. I think I do bring a lot of energy to this team. I think I am good for this locker room. And I just continue to remain myself and not let it weigh on me and wear me down. Just kind of put it aside and be me.”
Asked if he felt the process had been unfair to him, Elliott said: “I’m not really going to speak much more on that. You know? I’m just going to talk about this team and this football game and how well we played.”
Elliott did his best to talk about the Cowboys’ impressive season opening win. He raved about quarterback Dak Prescott. He talked about the positive influence tight end Jason Witten has had on him.
Elliott and Witten celebrated Witten’s touchdown with a choreographed handshake. Elliott also enjoyed seeing Witten become the Cowboys’ all-time receiving leader.
“It’s special, man,” Elliott said. “Witten’s been a big mentor to me. He’s heard me at my lowest points. He’s been able to talk to me when I’m at my highest points. And he’s just been nothing but an inspiration to me, and a reason to go out there and play better.
“So I’m glad to see him reach that milestone and he’s very worthy of it.”
At the end of the day, though, Elliott’s situation continues to linger over the team. This process is not close to being resolved. And it’s a dominant storyline for the team.
Owner Jerry Jones said Elliott has handled his situation “just great.”
“This year, he has put his head down and just worked,” Jones said. “He’s gotten all of the work he should get. He’s advanced from where he was a year ago. That’s what you expect a second-year guy to do.”