Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott is undoubtedly happy to be back on the practice field and clear to play after winning another legal battle with the NFL over his six-game suspension for alleged domestic assault against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
But in his most intelligible and expansive comments yet, Elliott made it plain Wednesday that he is fighting for his name and reputation as well as his right to play against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday in a must-win game for a struggling Cowboys team (2-3) coming off a bye and riding a two-game losing streak.
“When you get accused of something of that magnitude, you kind of get labeled as an abuser, and that’s not just me,” Elliott said softly before a throng of reporters in the Cowboys headquarters. “That’s not how I want to be seen, not how I want to represent my family. It’s just important for me to fight.”
And so he is continuing to fight, rather than just accept the suspension from the NFL.
Last week, Elliott’s fight took a setback when the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals tossed out the original preliminary injunction against the suspension that was allowing him to play.
But late Tuesday he was given another reprieve when a federal judge in New York granted him a temporary restraining order that will keep him on the field until another hearing and court ruling before or by Oct. 30.
“Appreciate the opportunity to go out here and get a couple more weeks with these guys for sure,” Elliott said. “And I have an opportunity to have an even longer TRO. So honestly, just happy to be able to play this week.”
Elliott acknowledged that the roller coaster ride of court filings has tested his resolve and emotions at times. But he is thankful for a strong legal team of personal and NFL Players Association lawyers who have battled for him in court.
“It’s a little tiring, but that’s what you have a legal team for,” Elliott said, “and it’s not really my job to worry about it. I trust the guys that work for me and I let them do the job. ... You just take it day-by-day, there’s been so many ups and downs, lefts and rights, you really don’t know what’s coming up next. Just got to take it day-by-day.”
The ups and downs and lefts and rights are not over yet.
There remains the possibility that he could be forced to serve the suspension if he loses his bid for an injunction in two weeks.
If he wins, he would be eligible to play the rest of the season.
He got some encouraging words from coach Jason Garrett during a phone call after the ruling was announced Tuesday night.
Garrett said Elliott has done a good job staying focused throughout the process and his attitude has been great.
“I just think it’s about coming to work,” Garrett said. “So many people have so many things going on in their lives outside of football. To me, in a lot of ways, this falls into that and the biggest thing is just focus on what you need to do each day to be your best. That’s a big theme for us, it’s something we try to emphasize to our players, and Zeke’s done a really nice job of that as he’s worked his way through this situation.”
Garrett doesn’t deny that the Cowboys are excited to have Elliott back on the field, but he has tried to guide his team through an unemotional view of the situation while controlling what they could control.
Backups Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Darren McFadden took turns working with the offense on Tuesday. Elliott was back in his usual starting role on Wednesday.
“Again, we just control what we can control,” Garrett said. “Yesterday he was not here and so the guys who were here had opportunities to go through the walk-through. Today he’s here and he’ll have an opportunity to practice. There was no big address to the team.”
But while Garrett remained stoic, the players expressed excitement and relief.
Right tackle La’el Collins said he found out about Elliott being back through a string of celebratory text messages with teammates.
A happy quarterback Dak Prescott added, “It’s great to have him back. Any chance we get with him in the backfield we’re going to take it. It’s an exciting week. If he’s playing, we’re obviously happy to have him.”
There is no question Elliott is appreciative to have the support of teammates. They have stood by him throughout a process that began in earnest last season when the initial accusations were levied and then crystallized Aug. 11 when the NFL officially suspended him following a yearlong investigation.
“We’re a very close group,” Elliott said. “We’ve talked about it many a time and that’s what family is for, that’s what a brotherhood is for, just to reach out. My teammates have done a great job picking me up when I’m down and making sure I’m able to stay focused and be the running back I need to be for this team.”
Cowboys at 49ers
3:05 p.m. Sunday, KDFW/4