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Ezekiel Elliott's 6-game suspension upheld, but he'll play Sunday

A six-game suspension handed down last month for Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott was upheld, the league announced Tuesday evening.

Credit: Charles LeClaire
Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) warms up before playing the Arizona Cardinals at Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

A six-game suspension handed down last month for Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott was upheld, the league announced Tuesday evening.

Former NFL executive Harold Henderson, who was appointed to hear Elliott’s appeal of the suspension, announced his decision Tuesday evening, three-and-a-half weeks after the suspension was handed down.

The 22-year-old running back will still be eligible to play in the Cowboys’ season opener. The NFL has delayed the suspension due to the timing of the arbitration ruling.

Elliott's lawyers released a statement saying he "looks forward to his day in federal court where the playing field will be level and the NFL will have to answer for its unfair and unjust actions."

Elliott’s camp had already filed a lawsuit in a federal Texas court asking Henderson to vacate discipline in the case, which stems from allegations of domestic violence made by Elliott’s ex-girlfriend in 2016.

The NFL filed for dismissal of Elliott's suit on Sept. 4, saying it was premature. Henderson's ruling came down during the first hearing regarding the restraining order Tuesday evening.

A decision on the restraining order is expected by Friday at 5 p.m., according to court notes from the country clerk.

In a letter notifying Elliott of his suspension on Aug. 11, the NFL said it believed Elliott used “physical force” on multiple occasions in July of last year. The letter cited, photographic, electronic and medical evidence to back the decision.

During a three-day appeal hearing Aug. 29-31, Elliott’s representatives provided evidence they claimed would controvert the league’s findings during its 13-month investigation.

Among the evidence presented by Elliott’s camp was the the recommendation from Kia Roberts, the NFL’s director of investigations, that Elliott receive no suspension.

Roberts is the only person who spoke with Elliott’s accuser during the initial investigation, but was reportedly barred from the meeting during which Roger Goodell and three executives came to the decision to suspend Elliott for six games.

The NFL Players Association cited those “startling findings” when it filed its petition in a federal court on Sept. 1 asking Henderson to vacate any discipline against the Cowboys running back.

“[Roberts] was prohibited from conveying her views to both Commissioner Roger Goodell and the advisory committee that was paneled to make recommendations to the Commissioner,” the NFLPA said in a release.

The lawsuit calls the NFL’s appeals process “fundamentally unfair” and accuses NFL Senior Vice President of Investigations Lisa Friel of withholding information, according to the Associated Press.

The AP reported the Goodell was aware of Roberts’ concerns when the suspension was handed down.

The credibility of Elliott’s accuser was called into question throughout the investigation and appeal process. On a police report in Columbus, Ohio, she listed her occupation as “sex slave.” Talk of partying, drug use, and “rough sex” surfaced during Elliott’s appeal hearing as he tried to clear his name.

Ultimately, the league decided the evidence against Elliott was enough to conclude he had committed at least one act of domestic violence. A six-game suspension is the league’s standard for a first-time domestic violence offense.

If Elliott’s restraining order is not granted and he sits out for six games, he would first be available to play in the Cowboys’ Week 9 game against the Kansas City Chiefs on November 5th. Dallas has a bye week in Week 6.

Daniel Wallach, a sports attorney, said that if Elliott is granted an injunction it would likely cover the entire 2017 season as the NFL's appeal would take months.

Without Elliott, Darren McFadden would start at running back for the Cowboys. McFadden rushed for over 1,000 yards in 2015, when he was the team’s primary back after the departure of DeMarco Murray.

Alfred Morris, a former 1,000-yard rusher with Washington, and Rod Smith would fulfill backup running back duties in Elliott’s absence.

They will meet in again in court Wednesday. The judge will rule Friday on the fairness of the arbitration process.

Timeline: Ezekiel Elliott off the field

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