Federal judge sides with NFLPA, blocks Elliott’s six-game suspension

A federal judge blocked Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension over a domestic violence case Friday, setting the stage for a potentially lengthy legal fight with the NFL.

Last year’s league rushing leader was already cleared to play in the opener against the New York Giants on Sunday before the ruling by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant.

Mazzant agreed with NFL Players Association lawyers that Elliott didn’t receive a “fundamentally fair” hearing in his appeal and granted the union’s request for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction blocking the league’s punishment. Elliott was suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in August after the league concluded he had several physical confrontations last summer with Tiffany Thompson, a former girlfriend.

Prosecutors in Ohio didn’t pursue the case, citing conflicting evidence.

The 22-year-old Elliott denied Thompson’s allegations in sworn testimony during an appeal hearing last week. He also attended the hearing for the restraining order earlier this week in Sherman, Texas.

“We are very pleased that Mr. Elliott will finally be given the opportunity to have an impartial decision-maker carefully examine the NFL’s misconduct,” Elliott’s attorneys said in joint statement. “This is just the beginning of the unveiling of the NFL’s mishandling as it relates to Mr. Elliott’s suspension.”

About the time of the ruling, Elliott — who rushed for 1,631 yards as a rookie last season — posted a highlight video on Instagram with a message that read, “Momma told me if ya fall never stay down.” He hasn’t spoken publicly since the Cowboys reported for training camp in late July.

Arbitrator Harold Henderson turned down Elliott’s appeal of the suspension the same day as the hearing in federal court. Henderson ruled that the NFL complied with its personal-conduct policy in punishing Elliott and rejected any claims that Elliott’s attorneys presented new evidence at the appeal.

Mazzant’s ruling took aim at Henderson and the NFL, saying decisions not to allow Goodell and Thompson to testify at the appeal were among several factors unfair to Elliott.

The judge also faulted the league for what he saw as several efforts to conceal the opinion of co-lead investigator Kia Roberts. She testified at the appeal that she didn’t think Thompson was credible and didn’t support any punishment for Elliott.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the league was reviewing the decision and would discuss its next steps with attorneys, including possible appeals in district court and with the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals.

“We strongly believe that the investigation and evidence supported the commissioner’s decision and that the process was meticulous and fair throughout,” McCarthy said.