If you’ve been following the recent bout of chest-pounding between the NFL and NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) on Twitter you might have forgotten that at the heart of the matter lay an ugly domestic violence case and a reportedly seriously injured victim.
Earlier this month, the NFL concluded a 13-month investigation of domestic violence allegations against Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekial Elliott, announcing his six-game suspension under the league’s nascent domestic violence policy. You can probably guess what happened next. The decision was met with a chorus of criticism from talking heads, Cowboys fans and the NFLPA, the union that represents NFL players in their dealings with the league.
This spat between the league and the NFLPA quickly took an ugly turn, and should upset both fans and players. Had the NFLPA confined their disagreement to the NFL’s oft-criticized and haphazard way of imposing discipline on its players, they would have had a fair amount of public opinion on their side. After all, the league had recently fumbled the Josh Brown investigation badly, and was still smarting from a U.S. District Court ruling overturning their suspension of Adrian Peterson following his plea of no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault. The NFL ultimately prevailed, but had to go all the way to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to so.
Suffice it to say that, when it comes to enforcing its domestic violence policy, the NFL isn’t all that accustomed to being in the right. Enter NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith, here to ask the league to hold his beer.
Last week, several media outlets, including Yahoo! Sports reported on text messages and other documentation that appeared to show Elliott’s accuser contemplating blackmail with a sex tape. The exchange between Elliott’s accuser and a friend was included in a 160-page report prepared by the NFL in detailing the decision to suspend Elliott. Despite the fact that the league’s investigators were aware of the exchange and took it into account in judging the accuser’s credibility, the NFLPA jumped on the chance to get the information into the public domain. A move, shockingly enough, that didn’t sit well with the NFL.
The NFLPA, bristling at being chastised by the likes of Roger Goodell, fired back.
Moments later, the NFLPA took another shot at the league:
Despite the fact that an official league investigation devolved into a group of grown men bickering on Twitter (with questionable use of emojis), let’s be clear about what exactly what we’re looking at: The head of a union of high-profile athletes using social media to publicly smear an alleged domestic violence victim.
It’s important to note that the allegations against Elliott’s accuser, upon which the NFLPA is hanging its collective hat, are well-known to NFL investigators. Moreover, these same allegations were not news to the attorney who declined to bring criminal charges against Elliott, but nevertheless found his accuser to be credible, as evidenced in a letter to Elliott from the league detailing the reasons for his suspension.
The league continues, in painstaking detail, to lay out evidence that Elliott engaged in multiple incidents of physical violence against the accuser in July 2016, adding that it interviewed more than a dozen witnesses, investigated photographic and digital evidence and consulted with medical experts about the accuser’s alleged injuries.
There was no way the NFL was going to suspend one of its biggest stars (from a team owned by one of its most powerful owners) without having their ducks in a row, and though it feels odd to say it, the league actually got this one right.
What the NFLPA hopes to do, it seems, is to put pressure on the league to reduce Elliott’s suspension on appeal, driven by a media outcry that he’s been set up by a she-devil and her diabolical plot to ruin his life. Not to be left out of this moral disaster, cue Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who notoriously signed Greg Hardy after he was found guilty by a North Carolina judge of beating his girlfriend, to declare the team’s support for Elliott. (Women of Dallas, would you consider cheering for Houston?)
Though the NFL has at least paid lip service to educating players, coaches, and even owners about domestic violence in the wake of the Ray Rice incident, it looks like the NFLPA could use a refresher course.
Searching for a “perfect” victim in a violent relationship is a fool’s errand.
Victims, like abusers, can be weak, emotionally stunted, manipulative, lacking in social skills, and even downright dishonest and mean. They can threaten, lie, extort, and bully. Victims can seek to wield what little power they have to punish their abuser for the violence they endure. They can lash out, set out to ruin their abuser’s reputation, intend to ruin their life. Domestic violence, at its core, is about an imbalance of power between two people. The abuser uses physical, emotional, financial, verbal, and other violence to control the victim. The victim often uses whatever she can get her hands on to fight back. And given that abusers are often skilled manipulators of public opinion, it’s not unusual for a victim to want to expose her abuser for what he really is.
What Smith seems unable to grasp is that Elliott’s accuser can be both a woman who attempted to “ruin” Elliott’s career (how many players have actually had their lives “ruined” by allegations of violence against women?) and the victim of abuse at Elliott’s hands. The two states of being are not mutually exclusive. The insinuation that a victim who lies about one thing must therefore be lying about everything is childish and intellectually shallow. Uncovering a victim’s lie is not fatal to a domestic violence allegation, it simply demands more corroboration of the victim’s story. In this case, the NFL had that evidence in spades.
It’s odd to be a in a position of praising the NFL for making the right call in a domestic violence allegation, and to find yourself cheering the league for their statement on the nuances of victim-blaming. But maybe, just maybe, the NFL is finally getting some mileage out of all that domestic violence training after all.