As we discussed on the latest episode of “The Cowboys Podcast”, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that he believes the Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott is “bracing for a short suspension” in relation to the year-long NFL investigation into an alleged domestic violence incident. Prosecutors – actual, real prosecutors – in that case announced long ago that Elliott would not face charges.
That is no longer good enough for a league which damaged its own public image by historically ignoring or diminishing acts of domestic violence until Ray Rice forced them to change their stance. Instead of adjusting suspension levels of those found guilty of a crime by a court of law, the NFL has been paralyzed by fear of misstepping again. “Presumption of innocence until proven guilty” has been replaced by, “We assume everyone is Ray Rice”.
The league is scared to death that if they don’t proactively punish those accused of a crime or at least never close an investigation, a video will later surface that will embarrass them. I get that. No one wants to be perceived as soft on domestic violence. We all agree that domestic violence is reprehensible and those who are guilty of it should be punished harshly. The question here is when. When should the NFL punish those in its employ who have violated the law?
The no-win situation the NFL is in is entirely self-created. While they absolutely have the right and responsibility to discipline their employees for conduct which damages their brand, they should not be in the business of quasi-law enforcement. Our taxes pay for people to do that. We are all guaranteed due process in matters of civil and criminal law. It isn’t the league’s job to determine anyone’s guilt or innocence, not even its own employees.
Granted, our system has flaws. No one denies that. People who are guilty of a crime can go free and people who don’t commit a crime are sometimes punished unfairly. But, it is a system we all agree to use and work to improve. No one wants to see a guilty man go unpunished. At the same time, there is a maxim in American law that “the law holds it better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent party suffer.” In the NFL, appearance has become more important than justice and people convicted of no crime can be punished as if they had committed a crime. The NFL’s attempt to create a parallel justice system has hurt players and the league, itself. In their effort to avoid another Ray Rice incident, they’ve only drawn more attention to their inability to deal effectively with the issue. They need to take a knee and end this farce.
It’s time for the National Football League to get out of the law enforcement business. They’ve demonstrated time and time again they can’t handle it, nor should they be expected to do so. They should wash their hands of their self-appointed duties as police, detectives, prosecutors, judges, and juries and leave those responsibilities to, you know, police, detectives, prosecutors, judges, and juries.
Let law enforcement deal with arrests, gathering evidence, prosecuting, and adjudicating. Once the process has played out and there is an outcome, THEN the league should decide what actions it wants to take in response. Won’t someone who is ultimately found guilty of domestic violence be able to continue playing games while his case winds through the legal system? Almost definitely. If someone plays an extra eight games, a whole season, or even their whole career in between charges and adjudication, so be it. If they are found guilty, they will pay a price determined by judges or juries. After that, if they want to play in the NFL, the league can decide on a punishment it feels is appropriate to impose on top of what that player paid to society. If they are found not guilty or are never charged, then the player will not have been forced to pay a price for something of which they are presumed innocent.
Ezekiel Elliott has had to live with this open investigation for a year. Professional prosecutors have determined there was not sufficient evidence to move forward. If the case is ever re-opened and they determine there is cause to move forward, they hold a trial, and he is ultimately found guilty, then the NFL should absolutely suspend him.
However, at this point, no charges have been filed and there is no indication that they ever will be. That should be enough for the NFL. If people want to voice dissatisfaction with that, they should direct their concerns not at the National Football League, but to the appropriate law enforcement entities tasked with handling violations of the law. We should expect them to do their jobs in ALL cases of domestic violence and have faith that they will execute their duties fully and fairly.
People who have not been charged with a crime should be able to live their life without a to-this-point unfounded accusation hanging over their head. People found not guilty should be able to move on. People found guilty should face the appropriate repercussions in their personal and professional lives. But, none of us, not even millionaires paid to play a game for our entertainment, should be subject to a faux justice system that is operating out of fear and assumes everyone is Ray Rice.