Ezekiel Elliott Decision Needs Heavy Scrutiny
The Ezekiel Elliott situation is another example of the difficult decisions the NFL must make when disciplining its players. Elliott stands accused of striking a woman, repeatedly, and while authorities declined to prosecute Elliott, the NFL has a different standard of guilt.
Roger Goodell’s tenure has largely been defined by how he has handled off field scandals during his time as NFL Commissioner. While he has consistently come down hard on offenders, his decisions have been routinely reversed or decreased during appeals. This is why it is important to hold the league as accountable, as it does to the players.
Domestic violence is indefensible. While the league has taken a hard line stance in the wake of the Ray Rice situation, and players have been held more accountable, the league can still probably do more. It seems likely that every team is populated with a number of players, coaches, and front office personnel that have physically assaulted women without being publicly named by their victims. It seems likely that most every professional institution can say the same thing. Unlike the NFL, most every other professional institution is not under intense public scrutiny.
The NFL is about players and Ezekiel Elliott is a great player. Banishing him is neither realistic, nor appropriate. So Roger Goodell does what he must, engaging in Discipline Theatre for all of the media and fans who follow the game. It is what Goodell has done time and time again. Ray Rice was given two separate suspensions for the same incident. The New Orleans Saints players and Greg Williams were convicted largely on evidence that is questionable. Tom Brady was suspended mostly for not cooperating with Goodell’s investigation. Washington and Dallas were punished, severely, for doing what every other team in the league had been doing for 2 decades. In each of these instances the NFL handed down a punishment that is difficult to objectively justify. In each case it seems like the NFL worked backwards from its desired outcome. That is why additional scrutiny is important for Elliott in this situation.
Other pundits have argued that Elliott deserves the presumption of innocence because he was not convicted of a crime. That idea makes me uncomfortable. The legal standard of guilt is higher than the civil standard, which is higher still than the standards of public opinion mandated by the free market. Elliott won’t go to jail. Many domestic abusers do not go to jail. It doesn’t make them innocent, it just makes them free. I am unwilling to side against an accuser without strong evidence. In this case I have yet to see that evidence.
None of this matters, however, because the scrutiny needed in this case is about the methodology used to reach the outcome. If the NFL is actually working backwards then the punishments handed down can not be allowed to stand. While it is important to get the right outcome, it is also important to get the reasoning right. So far, under Roger Goodell the NFL might have gotten the first one right, but they have yet to get the second one right.
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