In an effort to block the Ezekiel Elliott suspension, Elliott and the NFLPA threw plenty of arguments at the judicial dart board. Ultimately, multiple needles stuck at or near the bull’s-eye.
Based on the 22-page ruling from Judge Amos L. Mazzant III, here are the facts that drove the decision that Elliott did not receive a fundamentally fair hearing throughout the league’s internal disciplinary and appeal process.
First, Judge Mazzant concluded that the concerns regarding the credibility of Tiffany Thompson demanded an opportunity by Elliott’s lawyers to cross-examine Thompson at the appeal hearing. Arbitrator Harold Henderson’s refusal to order the league to make Thompson available robbed the process of fundamental fairness to Elliott, in Judge Mazzant’s opinion.
Second, Judge Mazzant concluded that the confusion regarding the handling (and alleged concealment by the NFL) of the opinions and conclusions of NFL Director of Investigations Kia Roberts required Commissioner Roger Goodell to testify at the appeal hearing. Henderson’s refusal to compel Goodell’s attendance and testimony kept the process from being fundamentally fair to Elliott.
Third, Judge Mazzant believes Henderson should have ordered the NFL to produce the notes taken during the various interviews of Tiffany Thompson.
Finally, Judge Mazzant explains that it was the one thing Henderson required the league to do — produce Kia Roberts to testify — that set the stage for Elliott’s ability to prove his case. Here’s the key text from the opinion: “Consistent with its previous actions to suppress Roberts’s dissenting opinions, the NFL kept this sequence of events from the NFLPA and Elliott until the arbitration hearing. In fact, had the NFL succeeded in its overall goal, this sequence of events would still be concealed from Elliott and the NFLPA. The NFLPA filed a motion to compel the testimony of Roberts, and the NFL argued in response that her testimony was unnecessary, consistent with Friel’s testimony, and cumulative. . . . Luckily, the NFLPA found the fairness needle in the unfairness haystack and Henderson ordered Roberts to testify. The arbitration record shows that Roberts’s testimony was everything but unnecessary, consistent, and cumulative.”
These factors all led to a very strong conclusion from Judge Mazzant regarding Elliott’s likelihood of winning the case when a final ruling is issued: “The circumstances of this case are unmatched by any case this Court has seen. . . . Fundamental unfairness infected this case from the beginning, eventually killing any possibility that justice would be served.”
It is, without question, a home run for Elliott and the NFLPA. A federal judge has concluded, as Elliott alleged and many agreed, that the process lacks basic fairness to the player. While many like to claim that the NFLPA agreed to these procedures, the union did not agree to the implementation of these procedures in an unfair way. That’s why the availability of the court system becomes critical to the ultimate effort to secure for the players a degree of fairness that the league is clearly not committed to providing.