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Ezekiel Elliot, running back with the Dallas Cowboys, one of the NFL’s most important franchises, will have to comply with the six-game suspension imposed on him on August 11, 2017. The “Zeke case,” a complex case full of procedural ups and downs, goes back to 2016.

The Dallas Cowboys running back was accused of domestic violence that apparently occurred in July 2016. This is a breach of the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

After over a year of investigations, on August 11, 2017, the NFL’s commissioner imposed a six-game suspension on the Dallas Cowboys star, to be effective immediately. The player’s legal team challenged the decision with the NFL’s Arbitration Panel. That is, on August 31, 2017, before the Arbitration Panel issued its resolution, the NFL’s Players Association (the league players’ union) or “NFLPA” submitted an application for a preliminary injunction to the US District Court-Eastern District of Texas. The application was for a temporary restraining
order to put the player’s suspension on hold.

However, on September 5, 2017, arbitrator Harold Henderson rejected the challenge and confirmed the NFL commissioner’s decision, ordering the player to comply with the imposed suspension applied by the NFL from the second day of the championship.

Almost simultaneously, on September 8, 2017, the district judge granted the preliminary injunction to the NFLPA, permitting the running back to continue playing until a definitive decision was issued. This decision enabled the player, who had already played on day one, to play in all the games between day two and day six.

The NFL (i) asked a court of the Southern District of New York to acknowledge and enforce the Arbitration Panel's ruling, and (ii) filed a motion with the Fifth Circuit’s appeal court to grant an emergency stay on the preliminary injunction granted by the Texas judge.

On October 12, the Court of Appeals acknowledged the NFL’s petition and issued a decision revoking the Texas district court judge’s ruling, lifting the preliminary injunction with immediate effects.

The court adopted that decision essentially because of a procedural matter: the NFLPA’s lawyers had not exhausted all the measures available to them before requesting the temporary restraining order. In fact, they submitted the request before the Arbitration Panel issued its decision.

Given this scenario, on October 16, the NFLPA filed another request for a temporary restraining order against the suspension, this time with the District Court for the Southern District of New York where the main proceedings were being carried out.

On October 17, there was a hearing with the substitute judge, who granted Elliot a temporary restraining order and suspended enforcement of the sanction until the presiding judge issued a decision. Thanks to the temporary restraining order, Elliot could play in his team’s next two games (day seven and eight of the season).

However, on October 30, Judge Katherine Polk Failla issued a ruling rejecting Elliot’s request for a temporary restraining order against the NFL's sanction. This ruling, which seemed definitive, implied the immediate enforcement of the sanction, meaning that the running back would not play in the next six games.

However, the NFLPA’s legal team decided to raise the matter with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (New York), requesting a preliminary injunction to suspend the sanction.

Given the above, on November 3, the Court of Appeals granted a precautionary measure temporarily suspending the sanction for the next game, until a three-judge panel issued its decision about the NFLPA’s request. Thus, Elliot once again obtained a suspension of the sanction, enabling him to play on day nine of the championship.

Finally, on November 9, the three-judge panel of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a ruling that, for now, is the definitive resolution in the “Zeke case.” The court rejected the suspension of the sanction, meaning that the running back would miss his team’s next six games, unless there are unexpected circumstances. Under this ruling, the best scenario facing Elliot would be missing the next four days of play, given that December 1 is the date set for the appeal hearing of the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit's
ruling.

The case, as we have seen, is a clear example of the importance of knowing how the procedure works and how to use the tools provided, so that a player that was suspended before the season began has been able to play in the first half of the season.

We will be closely following the ruling issued after the hearing on December 1.

Author: José María Segovia de la Colina

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Nuestro equipo de derecho del Deporte está formado por más de 30 abogados de diferentes prácticas jurídicas, especializados en el asesoramiento de todas aquellas cuestiones jurídicas relacionadas con el mundo del deporte. Ofrecemos un servicio individualizado mediante equipos organizados en función de las necesidades de la especialidad y de la disciplina del deporte en cuestión, abarcando, entre otras modalidades deportivas, fútbol, baloncesto, motor, hípica, tenis y ciclismo.

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