OXNARD, Calif. — He won’t allow it, but the person I’d like to talk to the most is Ezekiel Elliott. Because on some level we have all been there.
God knows I have. It’s that endlessly dark place where you balance regret, remorse and anger. It’s lonely. It’s miserable.
Because you know you have affected an array of innocent people, many of whom you love.
And whatever that moment is, it’s going to be there for the rest of your life. Don’t let it define you, or it can ruin a day. A week. A month. Years.
Mostly because it could all have been avoided if we just had not picked up the phone. If we had just said no. If we had walked out of the room. If we had just stopped to think.
If we had just stopped.
All of it could have been different. Easier. Happier. Instead this is where you are — furious.
At the NFL. At league Commissioner Roger Goodell. At the media. At the girl who accused you of hitting her. At her friends. At your friends. At the lawyers.
At yourself. Because that’s where all of this all starts.
So be mad. Feel it. Own it. Mean what you own. Then get over it. Deal with it. Then stop before it happens again.
Don’t turn into some bitter recalcitrant who is angry at the world and finds “his safe place on a football field” cliche. Be better than that, because that will ruin you.
And know this is about to get worse before it gets better.
The only thing Zeke can really do is re-adjust his way of behavior today, or else he will experience a level of self-inflicted hell that will make his current status feel like a party in purgatory.
We are talking about the rest of his life.
Zeke has denied the allegations that he assaulted an ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, as many as three separate times. He plans to fight the NFL’s decision to suspend him for six games.
He can drag this out for the season, and play every game, which his team and fantasy football freaks prefer. What he can’t do is outrun why he is here. He can only run in a different direction the next time.
Debate the specifics, or even be mad about them, but there is a reason beyond just a paranoid NFL that Zeke found himself the subject of a lengthy investigation.
If what the NFL and its fleet of investigators believe to be true — that Zeke got into physical fights with an ex-girlfriend in Columbus, Ohio, that resulted in bruises — there is no defense. And six games is just, at least.
There is a tomorrow, but there is no defending that behavior.
The NFL said it has photographs, provided by the victim, that indicate physical harm, as well as a text messages that indicate a fight took place.
Per the NFL, Columbus prosecutors felt it didn’t have enough solid evidence to pursue a case against Zeke. It does not mean Zeke is innocent; it means lawyers felt they could not win.
Because they couldn’t. The facts and evidence surrounding this case that have been made public are confusing, many contradictory. That does not fly for a conviction, especially against a famous defendant with a high-priced lawyer.
What the evidence adds up to is an incomplete picture that says the accuser might have lied to punish an ex-boyfriend. Or that Zeke is full of it.
Or they both are lying. All of it is plausible.
The NFL and a prosecutor’s office have different standards. The league operates in a post-Ray Rice world, so it’s going to act with extreme prejudice when it comes to potential domestic violence cases that could humiliate the brand.
During the NFL’s conference call with its investigators I asked, just to clarify, if Zeke had been suspended for six games because he violated the league’s domestic violence policy or its personal conduct policy.
“The personal conduct policy has a number of potential violations, some of which require an enhanced level of punishment,” league special counsel for conduct, Todd Jones, said. “But I think that the findings make it clear that there were several incidents substantiated of physicality between Mr. Elliott and Ms. Thompson that serve as the foundation of the suspension.”
Translate that indirect answer how you want, but the bottom line is the NFL is taking no chances that Zeke assaulted a woman. The league is not going to be Ray Rice‘d again.
The two Cowboys people I spoke with on Friday were enraged at the announcement, and they expect the team to fight this decision with the full weight of Jerry Jones behind it.
“Not the Zeke I know,” one player texted me.
They never are.
The Zeke we know is a goofy kid who loves football, fame, the attention of female fans, and to party.
We know the NFL is a private business that follows its one-sided collective bargaining agreement when it comes to levying suspensions from an autocratic ruler that are erratic, at best.
We know the NFL’s credibility when it comes to suspensions is suspect.
What we have not seen are the specifics as to why Zeke is suspended. We may never.
We also know that he got himself into some serious trouble and it has the potential to affect many people he never meant to harm.
And rather than preparing to play the 2017 NFL season under a cloudless sky, this specter he helped create resides over himself and his team.
On some level, we all have made a dumb decision or two or three with consequences that affect far more than ourselves. It’s an awful feeling.
It can ruin you.
The only way Zeke can improve is to own what he’s done and, next time, run the other way.
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