The challenge to Ezekiel Elliott‘s suspension has from time to time centered on the role of NFL Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel. Elliott and the NFL Players Association believe that Friel downplayed at best and concealed at worst the concerns of NFL Director of Investigations Kia Roberts regarding Elliott’s accuser’s credibility because Friel wanted to recommend an Elliott suspension — and because she knew that Roberts (who interviewed Elliott’s accuser six times to Friel’s none) didn’t agree with that outcome.
Judge Amos L. Mazzant III took specific aim at Friel’s credibility in the 22-page ruling blocking the Elliott suspension pending resolution of the lawsuit. Like many judges do, Judge Mazzant used a footnote for making his point.
Here’s footnote 9 to the written decision from Judge Mazzant: “Friel presented varying testimony throughout her arbitration [appearance] regarding Roberts’s opinions. She initially claimed that she could not discuss what conversations took place during the meeting because ‘[w]e had counsel in the room at the time, so [the conversations] would be protected by privilege.’ . . . Friel stated, ‘I don’t know if [Roberts]’ had the opportunity to discuss her views on the sufficiency of the evidence. Friel further said that ‘[Roberts] wasn’t in the meeting [Friel] had with [the Commissioner].’ . . . She additionally states ‘[t]hat’s not to say [Roberts’s] views were not communicated to him in some other fashion. I don’t know the answer to that.’ She confidently states that she does not ‘know if they were or weren’t [communicated to him in some fashion]’ but she asserts ‘that’s certainly possible.’ . . . However, in response to the very next question she communicated Roberts’s views to Goodell. . . . Yet, she could not ‘tell [the attorney] precisely’ how Roberts’s views were expressed, but just that ‘it was presented to him.’ Then, Friel claims that ‘Cathy Lanier may have’ expressed Roberts’s views to the Commissioner, but she does not ‘recall anything specific.'”
The most reasonable explanation for Friel’s zeal to suspend Elliott comes from the obvious desire to avoid another Ray Rice scenario, in which a player who was indeed guilty of domestic violence wasn’t sufficiently disciplined. Friel was hired in the aftermath of the Rice fiasco, and it’s now clear that the league has crafted a process aimed at erring on the side of suspending the innocent instead of failing to properly punish the guilty.
Then there’s that nagging perception that Friel’s status as a life-long Giants fan has at some level influenced her decision-making when the league failed to properly punish former Giants kicker Josh Brown last year and more recently when the league threw the book at Elliott.
Here’s what we wrote on the topic in 2016: “If Mike Kensil’s relationship with the Jets was fair game for scrutiny in the #DeflateGate saga regarding whether the league wanted to harm the Patriots, it’s fair to point out league-office allegiances that could help a team. Moreover, during the officiating lockout of 2012, a replacement official who made it clear that he is a Saints fan was pulled from a Saints game. If fan allegiance is enough to result in an official being removed from a given game, it’s fair to at least ask the question of whether Friel’s affinity for the Giants influenced her decision to opt for lenience with Brown — and her willingness to not press harder to hear from Brown’s ex-wife or from law enforcement.”
That same reasoning makes it fair to wonder whether Friel’s affinity for the Giants influenced her decision to opt for a harsh outcome for Elliott under circumstances that a federal judge has found to reveal fundamental unfairness to the player. Regardless of the reason (helping the Giants, hurting the Cowboys, protecting the league office against another Rice fiasco, telling the boss what she thinks the boss wants to hear, and/or good, old-fashioned incompetence) the Elliott ruling shines a fresh light on Friel and the work she has done on behalf of the league.