Saturday’s frenetic pace of trades and cuts and waivers and other roster moves gave the NFL a one-day respite from the Ezekiel Elliott case. But the lawsuit, filed two days ago in Texas, will be a major focal point over the next few days.
And in the same way the name “Richard Berman” became well-known in NFL circles two years ago, “Amos Mazzant” is about to become a short-term pro football celebrity. Formally known as the Honorable Amos L. Mazzant III, he’s the judge who was assigned to the Elliott case. And Judge Mazzant will commence his official involvement on Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. ET, when he convenes a hearing on the question of whether Elliott’s suspension will be stayed pending the resolution of the litigation.
So who is Judge Mazzant? For starters, he may not be a Cowboys fan. In fact, there’s a chance he’s the opposite.
Mazzant grew up in Ellwood City. Not Ellwood City, Texas (if there even is one). Mazzant grew up in Ellwood City, Pennsylvania, a town nestled 40 miles to the northwest of Pittsburgh.
Born in 1965, Mazzant came of age during the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s. Unless he was a contrarian who opted not to become a Steelers fan because everyone else around him was shoving him in that direction (a certain 1965-born blogger who grew up 60 miles to the southwest of Pittsburgh can relate), Judge Mazzant at some layer of his epidermis bleeds black and gold. Which means that, at some layer of his heart, he possibly hates the team from Texas that faced the Steelers in Super Bowl X and XIII — and that competed directly with the Steelers for the perception of football supremacy in that era.
Judge Mazzant got an undergraduate degree from Pitt, before a scholarship took him to Baylor for law school and kept him ever since then in Texas. So maybe he’s developed an affinity for the Cowboys over the last three decades. Or maybe proximity has made his disdain for them even greater.
This doesn’t necessarily mean Judge Mazzant will do to Elliott what Jack Lambert once did to Cliff Harris. Indeed, these dynamics are supposed to be irrelevant when the time comes to apply the law to the facts in any and every given case. Regardless of whether Judge Mazzant showed a streak of independence when the environment of his youth would have pushed him toward becoming a fan of the Steelers, Judge Mazzant — who was appointed to the bench by Barack Obama — previously attracted national attention by blocking the nationwide implementation of an Obama-proposed rule that would have doubled the salary limit for eligibility for overtime pay. This pro-business ruling points to a philosophy that could be very good news to the NFL.
It may sound overly simplistic, but judges develop clear reputations for issuing decisions that favor either employees or employers. And the trend typically holds, given that big-picture attitudes fueling the individual rulings tend to bubble up in each and every case the judge handles.
In this case, the pro-business outcome would be a dismissal the case as being filed prematurely, or perhaps deference to the potential lawsuit the NFL will file in New York City after arbitrator Harold Henderson affirms the suspension. Judge Mazzant also could keep the case and decide on Tuesday that, although Elliott would indeed suffer “irreparable harm” if he is forced to miss games and later wins a ruling that the suspension was flawed, the likelihood of success is so small that there’s no reason to let him use the court system as a way to slam the brakes on the banishment for a full year or longer.
So why did Elliott file the lawsuit in Judge Mazzant’s court? He’s one of seven judges serving in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, and the process of picking one is (or at least is supposed to be) random. Also, any ruling from Judge Mazzant will be subject to appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and if two of the three judges randomly assigned to handle the appeal agree with Elliott, Elliott will prevail.
None of that will matter, however, if Judge Mazzant’s Tuesday ruling doesn’t block the suspension. It will be the first, and arguably most important, decision in the case. While Elliott could still win later (which would help the NFL Players Association in its ongoing push-and-pull with the NFL over the Commissioner’s power over players), once Elliott misses six games it will be game over as far as most will be concerned.