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Ezekiel Elliott gets preliminary injunction; ban on hold

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  • By Austin Knoblauch NFL.com
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A U.S. District Court judge granted the NFL Players Association's preliminary injunction request on the behalf of Ezekiel Elliott, meaning the Dallas Cowboys running back's suspension is on hold.

Judge Amos Mazzant III's decision Friday allows Elliott to play for the Cowboys as the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas reviews the NFLPA's petition to void his six-game suspension.

There's no timeline for Mazzant to make a decision on whether to allow the petition to move forward to a full hearing, according to Gabe Feldman, director of the Tulane Sports Law Program. However, there's a very good chance Elliott could play the entire 2017 season as the case makes it way through the court.

"It could be that the suspension is reinstated somewhere down the line, but it looks like for now that Elliott will play most if not all of this season," Feldman said on NFL Network's Up to the Minute Live.

Elliott already was permitted to play in Sunday's season opener against the New York Giants due to the timing of arbitrator Harold Henderson's appeal decision on Tuesday.

In his decision, Mazzant agreed with the union that Elliott didn't receive a fair appeal hearing from Henderson, who was appointed by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

"The question before the court is merely whether Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator," Mazzant wrote. "The answer is he did not. The court finds, based upon the injunction standard, that Elliott was denied a fundamentally fair hearing by Henderson's refusal to allow [former girlfriend Tiffany] Thompson and Goodell to testify at the arbitration hearing. Their absence ... effectively deprived Elliott of any chance to have a fundamentally fair hearing."

The NFL disagreed with Mazzant's assessment.

"We strongly believe that the investigation and evidence supported the commissioner's decision and that the process was meticulous and fair throughout," the league spokesman said in a statement. "We will review the decision in greater detail and discuss next steps with counsel, both in the district court and federal court of appeals."

The league's next step could indeed involve filing a petition with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, said Feldman, who believes there's a strong chance the NFL will appeal. NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported Sunday the league hasn't determined yet if they will appeal the decision, but it could file a petition as early as Monday.

"This is part of the ongoing fight between the players association and the league over the power of the commissioner," Feldman said. "We have seen the NFL go to great lengths in court to affirm and strengthen and maintain they believe in what they collectively bargained for. And we've seen the players association fight and say that the commissioner has overreached and they want to protect the rights of the players ... [The NFL] doesn't want precedent out there that says a court can interfere with the commissioner's decision or with an arbitrator's decision. So I think this fight will continue even if it's irrelevant to Elliott being on the field or not."

Goodell suspended Elliott six games on Aug. 11 after a year-long investigation into domestic violence accusations made by Thompson. The league found he violated the league's conduct policy, which mandates a six-game suspension for first-time domestic violence violations.

Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing.

"Commissioner discipline will continue to be a distraction from our game for one reason: because NFL owners have refused to collectively bargain a fair and transparent process that exists in other sports," the NFLPA wrote in a statement released after the decision. "This 'imposed' system remains problematic for players and the game, but as the honest and honorable testimony of a few NFL employees recently revealed, it also demonstrates the continued lack of integrity within their own League office."

Henderson upheld the six-game suspension by denying Elliott's appeal on Tuesday. In his decision, Henderson wrote Goodell rightfully acted within his "broad discretion" under the terms of the collective bargaining agreement "to decide the process for taking action against a player for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence" in the league. Goodell's decision to suspend Elliott -- within the framework of the CBA -- wasn't made on "unreasonable grounds or without any proper consideration of the circumstances," Henderson wrote.

The NFLPA filed a petition to have the suspension nullified just hours after the appeal hearing ended on Aug. 31. The NFL filed a motion Monday to dismiss the petition. The league also filed requests with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to confirm and enforce the arbitration ruling and for the case to be heard in New York instead of Texas.

The union is challenging the process the NFL undertook to suspend Elliott -- not the factual conclusions from its investigation, Feldman said. The NFLPA's filing states the Henderson-led appeal process "deprived the union and Elliott of fundamental fairness." Among other things, the petition alleges the league deliberately hid critical information from Elliott and the union that could have been used to exonerate him. It claims the NFL's lead investigator on the case, Kia Roberts, found Thompson wasn't credible and there was insufficient corroborating evidence to support any discipline.

"They're trying to create a grand conspiracy story where none exists," league spokesman Joe Lockhart told NFL Network's Tom Pelissero.

Elliott has been taking part in practice, walkthroughs and team meetings team meetings this week as the Cowboys prepare for the Giants. It appears Elliott will continue to be a mainstay at The Star and AT&T Stadium for the rest of the season.

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