On Friday morning, the NFL suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott for the first six games of the 2017 season following a 13-month investigation into allegations of domestic violence. The accusations were made against Elliott by his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson.
The league's decision isn't based on any legal standard. The City Attorney's Office in Columbus, Ohio, declined to press charges against Elliott, citing conflicting statements from witnesses.
After the league's latest collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is free to punish players however he sees fit. The NFL's findings from its investigation are public information, thanks to a letter the league sent Elliott informing him of his suspension. Here's what we know so far:
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The league investigated two incidents.
The first, the one for which Elliott was ultimately punished, is a series of attacks Thompson claims Elliott committed during the week of July 16, 2016. According to Thompson, Elliott assaulted her multiple times during a one-week period in Columbus, where Elliott, an Ohio State product, had returned to celebrate his July 21 birthday. The second incident is Elliott's caught-on-camera decision to pull down a woman's shirt at Dallas' 2017 St. Patrick's Day parade.
NFL investigators concluded that Elliott injured Thompson on three separate occasions.
According to the letter sent to Elliott by Todd Jones, the NFL's special counsel on personal conduct, the league believes that Elliott "used physical force that caused injuries" to Thompson on July 17, 19 and 21. According to the league, Elliott caused bruises on Thompson's face, arms, legs, knees and hips.
The league investigation centered on photos taken by Thompson.
The league reviewed a series of photos taken by Thompson after the alleged attacks. "[Thompson] took photos of her injuries. As the league examined the metadata in the phone with respect to those photos, the league discovered the date on which those photos were taken," Peter Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general who sat on the league panel that investigated Elliott, said during a conference call. "They were taken the same day as Ms. Thompson alleged she was injured by Mr. Elliott. We also examined the reports of two medical experts who are knowledgeable about violence issues and evaluating injuries of violence. These medical experts corroborated many of the statements that Ms. Thompson made."
Despite the NFL's conclusion that Thompson misrepresented one alleged incident, the panel believed her statements about others.
Harvey said during the conference call that while one altercation Thompson claimed she had with Elliott did not occur, the panel believed most of her allegations. "[Thompson's] false statement that was revealed was she accused Mr. Elliott of yanking her out of a car on July 21 — really it’s the morning of the 22nd because I think it was after midnight. That did not happen," Harvey said. "And she did ask one of her friends to tell the police that it did happen, and the friend had the good sense not to do that. That is true. But as to other statements that she made, both to the Columbus DA as well as to NFL investigators, she was absolutely truthful about them."
The NFL does not believe Elliott's claims that Thompson got her injuries elsewhere.
The league dismissed Elliott's contention that Thompson was injured in a bar fight or another incident, something Elliott has claimed since early in the investigation. "Elliott’s representatives suggested that maybe she was in a fight with another woman and the bruises — for example, a bruise to her eye, and perhaps other bruises on her body — were sustained in that altercation," Harvey said. "The NFL’s investigators talked to people who witnessed that altercation, and it was revealed that neither woman landed a punch on the other. They pulled each other’s hair but they never hit each other with a balled-up fist or in any other way."
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Elliott will appeal his suspension.
Elliott's attorneys announced Friday afternoon that they would appeal their client's suspension, saying that the league's investigation was "replete with factual inaccuracies and erroneous conclusions." The attorneys point to Thompson's misstatement about the alleged July 22 incident as proof that she is lying about many of the other events in questions. "During the upcoming weeks and through the appeal, a slew of additional credible and controverting evidence will come to light."
Goodell or someone else appointed by the commissioner will hear Elliott's initial appeal.