An arbitrator upheld Ezekiel Elliott's entire six-game NFL suspension after denying his appeal on Tuesday, NFL Network Insider Ian Rapoport reported.
Arbitrator Harold Henderson's decision comes after last week's three-day appeal hearing that included sworn testimony from Elliott regarding domestic violence accusations made against him last year. The NFL suspended Elliott last month for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
The league issued the following statement explaining why Elliott was permitted to play Week 1:
"In the absence of a ruling from Mr. Henderson at the outset of the hearing, the judge indicated his desire to have the appropriate time to consider all legal issues before making a ruling. To that end, the judge asked counsel whether it was prepared to allow Mr. Elliott's suspension, if upheld, to begin after week one allowing him time to make that ruling. In deference to the judge, NFL counsel agreed that Mr. Elliott would be permitted to play this weekend regardless of the timing of the decision. When the decision was issued, the judge advised that in light of the league's agreement, he would allow additional filings and make his decision by Friday."
In an effort to uphold the suspension, the NFL filed a complaint against the NFLPA on Tuesday night in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York seeking confirmation and enforcement of the arbitration decision. In its filing, the league states both the NFL and NFLPA are legally bound to arbitration decisions under the collective bargaining agreement. It also states the commissioner has the authority to discipline players the NFL determines have engaged in conduct "detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football."
In a statement released shortly after the appeal denial was made public, Elliott's attorneys said they were "extremely disappointed" with Henderson's ruling.
"The only just decision was to overturn the suspension in its entirety," his attorneys stated.
In his decision, Henderson wrote NFL Commissioner Roger 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.
Henderson found all guidelines for imposing discipline outlined in the personal conduct policy were "followed closely, step by step" by the NFL during the process leading up to Elliott's suspension. In regard to new evidence presented by Elliott's counsel during the appeal, Henderson found it wasn't significant enough to warrant overturning Goodell's decision.
"I find it unnecessary to reexamine all the evidence presented in this record because my careful and diligent review of everything the commissioner reviewed and relied on draws me to the conclusion that the record contains sufficient credible evidence to support whatever determinations he made," Henderson wrote in his eight-page decision. "[Goodell] is entitled to deference on those judgments absent irregularities not present here. While the record contains inconsistencies in statements, an adjudicator makes informed judgments on the credibility of witnesses and evidence."
Last week, the NFL Players Association filed a petition with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas last week seeking to void the suspension. It also filed a temporary restraining order motion against Henderson's appeal decision. U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant III will determine if the suspension can be postponed while he reviews the petition. Mazzant III will make a ruling by 5 p.m. CT Friday.
If Mazzant III does not grant the NFLPA's TRO request, Elliott's suspension would begin Week 2 against the Denver Broncos.
The NFL filed a motion to dismiss the petition on Monday, claiming the union made "an improper race to the courthouse" and arguing the NFLPA's motion is premature because the arbitrator has not ruled yet and thus, the court must dismiss the case, according to court records obtained by NFL.com.
The NFLPA's request alleges the Henderson-led appeal process has "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 the woman who accused Elliott wasn't credible and there was insufficient corroborating evidence to support any discipline. While the NFLPA cited this as new evidence during the appeal, Henderson wrote that Roberts' views were in the investigative report Goodell reviewed before his suspension decision.
"They're trying to create a grand conspiracy story where none exists," league spokesman Joe Lockhart told Pelissero on Friday.
Lockhart also disputed key aspects of a report by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram last week: that Lisa Friel, the league's senior vice president of investigations, barred Roberts from the meeting in which Friel recommended a six-game suspension to Goodell; and that Roberts testified in the appeal hearing that she recommended no discipline.
Elliott, 22, was never charged and has denied wrongdoing. When Elliott's original suspension was announced, Todd Jones, the NFL's Special Counsel for Conduct, said independent advisers who reviewed the evidence gathered by the league "were of the view that there is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence against Ms. [Tiffany] Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016."