Ezekiel Elliott's suspension makes me feel like a bad feminist
The NFL has suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for six games for violating its personal conduct policy in incidents involving women. And for the first time in a long time, I genuinely have no idea what to make of this situation.
The league has been investigating Elliott for more than a year after multiple allegations of violent behavior emerged. In July 2016, a woman who said she had been living with Elliott at the time filed a police report in Columbus, Ohio, stating that he had attacked her numerous times that week, including an incident in a parking lot. Four witnesses in the parking lot said they did not see any assault, and Elliott denied ever living with her.
The same woman had called Aventura, Florida, police in February of last year, saying Elliott had pushed her against the wall. No charges were filed in either instance.
This March, Elliott was caught on video pulling down a woman's shirt and touching her at a St. Patrick's Day parade in Dallas. Again, no arrests were made, nor charges filed.
According to the league's letter to Elliott, its decision was based on an independent investigation of the July 2016 and March 2017 incidents. The league based its determination on forensic analysis of several photos taken by the first woman and the Columbus Police Department showing significant injuries on multiple dates, in addition to corroborating testimony by the woman and other witnesses.
As tends to happen in domestic violence cases, the woman's credibility has been repeatedly questioned, especially after witnesses said they overheard the woman tell Elliott she was going to "call the cops to ruin his career." (Some took this as a threat to lie to the police, but I feel the need to point out that it could just as well be a threat to finally come forward.) The NFL addressed this in its letter, stating that the Columbus city prosecutor interviewed by the league has said both publicly and privately that "[w]e never concluded that she was lying to us. ... We generally believed her for all of the incidents."
Moreover, the league noted that its decision was not based on the testimony of the woman alone but on a combination of corroborating witness testimony, photographic evidence and expert analysis.
As a staunch advocate for victims of domestic violence, and a harsh critic of the NFL's handling of such cases in the past, I want to laud the firm stance taken by the league in handing down a six-game penalty, the minimum stipulated by its relatively new domestic violence policy. It's also encouraging that the league seems committed to its position that NFL investigation and discipline will occur independently from police and prosecutorial procedure.
Cases like Greg Hardy's -- charges against him were dismissed after his accuser failed to appear at his appeal trial -- show the need for consideration outside the justice system. Given the grueling nature of public court proceedings and the tendency to drag accusers' names through the mud in cases involving celebrities, it's understandable why one would be more willing to cooperate with NFL investigators than with police.
Furthermore, the St. Patrick's Day incident establishes a pattern of violent behavior toward women that can't be ignored. Public groping isn't necessarily on the same level of offense as partner assault, but both demonstrate a similar disregard for another person's body.
That said, I'm still torn, not really knowing what happened, the investigation and punishment having gone on outside of the public forum.
While giving Elliott's accuser the benefit of the doubt, as so many women are not afforded, the six-game suspension might be heavy-handed, at least based on precedent. At the same time, it's hypocritical for those of us who expressed outrage at Ray Rice's initial two-game suspension, saying it was based on the longstanding precedent of the NFL not taking violence against women seriously, to then turn around and use that same precedent to argue Elliott's punishment might be too harsh.
Perhaps the uneasy lesson here is that, although we continue to strive to perfect the process of assessing, investigating and penalizing acts of violence, a system in which the outcome is entirely satisfying might not exist. Although calls for consistency are warranted, comparing Elliott's suspension to, say, Josh Brown's, does much more to retroactively highlight the mistakes made in Brown's case than any made in Elliott's.
And though substantial penalties do satisfy an immediate desire to see justice in whatever form, the larger picture is that punitive measures alone are not enough to combat the scourge of violence against women. Consequences are important; solutions don't come easily.