If you are an NFL player, you must understand by now the time for misbehavior has come and gone. The league is more vigilant than ever about policing itself and more willing than ever to exercise its power by assessing fines and suspensions when it feels someone has crossed its line.
That is why the Dallas Cowboys were holding their breath this week about running back Ezekiel Elliott. Elliot was briefly detained, but not arrested, after an incident in May in Las Vegas where a security guard fell to the floor about being bumped by the player.
Elliott caught a break on Wednesday when the league announced Elliott had not violated its personal conduct policy and would face no discipline. But maybe he won’t be so lucky the next time.
Elliott was attending a music festival when he got into a disagreement with a girlfriend. A security guard approached, at which point Elliott made contact. Witnesses called is a slight push, but the police weren’t in agreement. They slapped cuffs on him.
In making the announcement, the NFL said its investigation, which included interviews with many witnesses, including security personnel, found no reason to believe Elliott acted with any malice. But before it came to its conclusion, Elliott had to meet with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday and explain himself. It’s likely Goodell reminded him again of what his responsibilities were to behave himself and what not doing so would cost him and his team.
“I’ve worked hard to make better decisions and to live up to the high standards that are expected of me,” Elliott said in the statement. “I failed to do that here and I made a poor decision. I apologized to (the security guard) Kyle Johnson at the time and I meant it.”
“I need to work harder to ensure I do not put myself in compromised situations in the future. I am rededicating myself to use all of the resources that the league has made available. But in the end, it is up to me and I am determined not to be in this position again.
It’s important to remember the league’s personal conduct policy provides for remedies that do not necessitate arrest or convictions. The league can simply decide a player was out of line and assess whatever fine or penalty it feels is merited.
What made the Cowboys nervous – and what should have made Elliott act with a little more discretion – was his history. Goodell suspended the running back in 2017 for six games after he was accused of a domestic violence incident involving a woman in Columbus, Ohio in 2016.
Once again, Elliott was not arrested or charged, but Goodell felt there was enough evidence to substantiate the penalty, which he likely felt would deter the player from getting himself involved again in anything that would bring his behavior into focus. It’s interesting to remember Elliott appealed the decision before finally acquiescing.
If anything, Elliott has probably learned another important lesson. The Athletic quoted a team source two weeks ago claiming the NFL was trying to scare some sense into Elliott by making a big deal out of this matter. And that’s probably correct. The Cowboys have been talking to his agent about a long-term contract extension and any other incidents might damage his chances of getting what he feels he deserves.
Elliott has tried to be a model citizen since his suspension ended – he volunteered to pay for the funeral of a young football player killed by a stray bullet in his hometown, St. Louis – and his performance has only gotten better. He led the NFL in rushing last season.
“Mr. Elliott acknowledged that he demonstrated poor judgment and committed to make better choices in the future,” the league said in a statement on Wednesday. “He volunteered to take advantage of the resources available to help him continue to grow personally.”
While Elliott has escaped with his season intact, the NFL may now be turning its attention once again to running back Kareem Hunt, who now plays for the Cleveland Browns.
A video published on Monday by TMZ Sports – who else, right? – showed the player being questioned by police after an incident over the weekend outside the Barley House in Cleveland.
The owner of the club told Cleveland.com Hunt got into a minor altercation with a friend. He was not arrested and officers did not make a police report about the incident. But the Browns are aware of what happened.
You’ll recall Hunt has already been suspended for the first eight games of the 2019 season for violating the NFL’s conduct policy while with the Kansas City Chiefs. Hunt shoved and kicked a woman during an early-morning altercation in February 2018 and was released on Nov. 30.
Hunt signed with the Browns on Feb. 11 to a one-year deal worth up to $1.1 million with no money guaranteed.