NEW YORK – Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott’s half-season run from his six-game suspension ended Thursday when a federal appeals court refused to let him play while it considers his appeal.
A bespectacled Elliott in a suit and tie sat directly in front of a three-judge panel that considered a request from the NFL Players Association that he be allowed to play. But the court issued an order in less than an hour disqualifying him from Sunday’s game at Atlanta. It appears he’ll miss all of November’s games since the court set a Dec. 1 hearing for oral arguments on the merits of the union’s appeal.
The suspension was ordered in August as discipline after the league investigated allegations he used force against his girlfriend in the summer of 2016. Elliott vehemently denied the allegations as recently as last week, saying he was not an abuser.
A federal appeals court last month tossed out his court challenge in Texas, but the league’s request for a New York court to affirm that it had acted properly led a Manhattan judge to rule last month that Elliott must begin his suspension. After the union appealed, the lower-court decision was temporarily stayed, allowing Elliott to play last Sunday.
By Thursday’s ruling, Elliott had already left the courthouse without speaking to reporters, though he shook the hand of a person who shouted that he was a “huge fan” as Elliott raced down steps to a sport utility vehicle.
Although the league won the battle, the appeals judges took a few shots at the NFL for its handling of the suspension of a 22-year-old athlete who will be sidelined while he’s second in the league with 783 yards rushing and tied for the league lead with seven rushing touchdowns.
Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs told Paul Clement, the NFL’s lawyer, that he found it odd that the issue was “such a frantic emergency that it can’t wait another couple months.”
“This is not just about Elliott and the Cowboys,” Clement responded, noting that 100 players across the league had been suspended for a total of 500 games over the last two seasons.
“Unfortunately, discipline is a fact of life in the NFL,” the lawyer said. “They all have an interest in seeing the same basic rules applied to them.”
Clement said it was important that players not be able to “game the system” by using the courts to delay suspensions until it is convenient for them or their teams.
Still, he noted, Elliott would start his suspension as the Cowboys enter the “easy part” of their schedule.
“This is the ideal time for him to serve the suspension,” Clement said.
Attorney Andrew Tulumello, arguing for the union, urged the 2nd Circuit to let Elliott play, saying missing games was irreparable harm and the union deserved additional time “to prove these events did not occur.”
The NFL did not comment on the court’s order, though it affirmed that the suspension was in place.
Elliott’s attorneys did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Elliott arrived at the hearing just minutes before it began. He was smiling and greeting his lawyers before he moved his chair to face the judges more directly.
Elliott had received three different legal reprieves as he played the season’s first eight games.
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