Jerry Jones should respect NFL's investigation process, despite its pitfalls
It's understandable if you missed the Dallas Cowboys story last week. Between the Cubs' World Series title and the election, a lot has been happening. But that doesn't make this story any less notable.
During the most recent NFL owners' meetings, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones approached the league's top investigator, Lisa Friel, and raised his voice at her while discussing Ezekiel Elliott, the rookie running back who is being investigated by the NFL for alleged domestic violence, according to several people who witnessed the encounter.
Jones said he recognized that investigations were her bread and butter and ended the conversation with: "Your bread and butter is going to get both of us thrown out on the street," according to ESPN The Magazine reporter Seth Wickersham, who witnessed the encounter, which was reported by Outside the Lines. Other witnesses downplayed Jones' intensity.
A public relations person immediately led Jones out of the hotel bar. An NFL spokesperson said there aren't any rules against this kind of interaction.
But that doesn't mean it isn't problematic.
It's unsettling that Jones thinks he can lobby Friel on Elliott's behalf in an informal setting. On one hand, you can't blame him -- the league has been completely inconsistent in handing down penalties related to domestic violence accusation. The NFL has used mitigating factors to reduce suspensions, and it never has used aggravating factors to increase a punishment.
The NFL's disciplinary process isn't a court of law, but players and fans should be able to have confidence that the case is at least getting a clear-eyed look. Jones' actions undermined any appearance of an unbiased review.
Jones should respect the process. But the NFL should make sure the process is one to respect.
The owners' meetings took place a week before new information emerged on former Giants kicker Josh Brown. Brown had been suspended for only one game after a domestic violence arrest last year. The punishment fell well short of the six-game minimum suspension called for in the NFL's 2014 Personal Conduct Policy.
In a document released later, Brown admitted to domestic abuse against his wife. It was information the investigation didn't initially have, but it echoed statements his wife made to police when she called 911. Brown was released by the Giants on Oct. 25.
Elliott's case is very different. He's hasn't been arrested, nor has he had charges filed against him. According to a July 22 police report, Elliott's girlfriend claimed he assaulted her and said she had pain in her right wrist and a red mark. Four witnesses to the incident said they did not observe an assault, and police directed his girlfriend to the prosecutor's office.
USA Today reported Nov. 4 that the same woman called police in Florida in February with similar allegations.
The NFL said in July that it would review the allegations against Elliott under its personal conduct policy.
In any review, players should be able to expect a resolution in a reasonable amount of time. Friel will sort through the evidence she can gather. Her group will make a recommendation, and commissioner Roger Goodell will review it.
But Jones' actions seem to imply that Friel's investigative work is detrimental to the league. Elliott is one of the brightest young stars in the NFL. If he were to receive a suspension, and the 6-1 Cowboys were to lose him for any length of time, it could affect the team's NFC East standings and their shot at the playoffs. That could take money out of Jones' pocket.
Friel is no shrinking violet. Jones' type of persuasion isn't likely to have an effect on her investigation. She was at the meeting to give owners a presentation on her work -- work that apparently isn't fully appreciated by all 31 owners.
Jones doesn't understand punishing a marquee player because he doesn't see the NFL's problem with domestic violence. He praised Greg Hardy's leadership during a season when these photos of Hardy's ex-girlfriend were published. If Hardy had played better, if he hadn't stormed into a special teams huddle and knocked a clipboard out of a coach's hands, it's possible that he'd still be in a Dallas uniform.
Is that the NFL's bread and butter?
Although there are still serious problems with the investigations, at least the NFL is making a serious and sustained effort to impose discipline so fans don't have to justify cheering for a player like Hardy.
Jones should at the very least understand that and show some respect for the woman who represents that effort.