In August, the National Football League suspended Ezekiel Elliott, the running back for the Dallas Cowboys, for 6 games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. The suspension stems from a year-long investigation into domestic violence allegations made by Elliot’s former girlfriend. The NFL and its mercurial commissioner, Roger Goodell, have unlimited power to reprimand its players. While the NFL and NFLPA collectively bargained for Goodell’s power, it gives the commissioner an ability to review his own decisions without third-party oversight. This differs significantly from the typical arbitration process where a neutral third-party arbiter is appointed by both parties to make a binding decision without preferential treatment to one side. Goodell’s “unlimited powers of adjudication” was a concession made during bargaining by the players in order to end the 2011 lockout and achieve other health and safety goals including limiting two-a-day practices.
The players can only blame themselves for allowing this situation to happen. This leaves Elliott in a position where he must battle his employer in court despite prosecutors deciding not to charge him with a crime. Fortunately, on September 8th, Judge Amos Mazzant, a federal court judge in Texas, ruled on a motion for a temporary restraining order to block Elliott’s suspension until Elliott’s lawsuit against the NFL is completed. This allows Elliott to play while the case in ongoing, much to the satisfaction of Dallas Cowboy fans and Fantasy Football participants who drafted Elliott. Between the deflate-gate fiasco surrounding New England Patriots QB Tom Brady, former Ravens running back Ray Rice’s video-recorded domestic violence dispute, Elliot’s ongoing case, and the league’s CTE denial, the NFL is perpetually portrayed negatively in the news. The fact that the commissioner has a de facto monarch doesn’t bode well for its public perception. Once the CBA expires in 2021, the NFLPA and its players expect to hold out for as long as it takes to secure more favorable conditions as employees. As long as Goodell is supported by the NFL’s 32 owners and is acting for the owners best interests, the divide between the league’s front office and its players will loom large.