The NFL lost another battle in a war that, in the long run, it always wins. But oh, those losses. Over and over and over again. And bigger chunks of its credibility knocked away each time.
A federal judge Friday mercilessly trashed the NFL’s investigative process in granting Ezekiel Elliott a preliminary injunction in his fight to overturn his suspension. Terms like “unique and egregious” and “breach of the CBA” are signals that the NFL overstepped its bounds and abused its power in the eyes of the court. Elliott, it was ruled, did not get a “fundamentally fair hearing.’’ Again, punches were not pulled.
U.S. District Court Judge Amos Mazzant came down on Roger Goodell the way Richard Berman lit him up when Tom Brady appealed his Deflategate suspension two years ago.
MORE: Ezekiel Elliott suspension timeline
Goodell was taken to the woodshed by various entities, in court and in arbitration, over the handling of Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Brady and now Elliott. The players association keeps calling the league out on violation after violation of their own collectively bargained disciplinary procedures.
Once again, what the player is actually accused of — in this case, domestic violence — is crowded out by what continues to be ruled as a trampling of the player’s rights.
Each time it happens, it drags the country’s favorite sport another foot deeper into the tar pit. The fact that Elliott’s case is a linear descendant of the Rice case from three years ago reminds everybody that the dirt from that Rice case hasn’t been washed off yet.
(And because they’re the NFL and this is what they do, earlier Friday they did a Lazarus job on Josh Brown’s case, which is now inextricably tied to both Rice and Elliott.)
Now, here comes another layer of crud.
STEELE: Elliott case being NFL’s newest legal quagmire is a deflating thought
And forget the crud from the Brady case. Of all the ugly reminders this dredges up, the two solid years of Deflategate is the worst, and in this case, most relevant. If nothing else, the way Elliott has bounced from a long suspension to a court-approved reprieve for the whole season and the foreseeable future, brings the painful memory of the Brady mess writhing back to life.
Nobody wants that. But because the NFL never learns its lesson, and because it never lets a chance to flex its muscle against the players pass it by, that’s what we’re going to get. That cloud that constantly blanketed the drama of the games (and its bigger ills) throughout Deflategate … it’s floated back in.
Yet there’s a reason why the NFL is all right with it, and why it never learns its lesson — when all is said and done and every possible motion and appeal has been filed, the NFL wins. The courts eventually rule that the collective bargaining agreement gives Goodell the right to do exactly what the union agreed he could do back in 2011. In Brady’s case, that was determined one step shy of the Supreme Court.
MORE: Fantasy football fallout with Ezekiel Elliott back in mix
Right on schedule, the NFL hinted at that in its reaction to Friday’s injunction: “We will review the decision in greater detail and discuss next steps with counsel, both in the district court and federal court of appeals.”
Peterson ended up suspended. So did Brady. Rice won in arbitration, but he never played another game.
Some day, if precedent holds, Elliott will have to serve his time. No one knows when it will happen. Just no time soon.
But along the way, the shield gets coated with a fresh coat of tarnish. The NFL celebrates a win, then wonders why everyone except them looks at it like a loss.