FRISCO, Texas (AP) – A federal appeals court cleared the way for the NFL to impose a six-game suspension on Dallas Cowboys star Ezekiel Elliott over domestic violence allegations on Thursday, siding with the league in the latest high-profile fight over its ability to punish players for off-field behavior.
In a 2-1 decision, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel in New Orleans granted the league’s emergency request to set aside an injunction and ordered a district court in Texas to dismiss Elliott’s case.
The case may not be done yet and further appeals were possible. One of Elliott’s representatives didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
A federal judge in Texas had issued an injunction that blocked the suspension last month, agreeing with NFL players’ union attorneys who argued that the investigation of the allegations in Ohio and a subsequent appeal were unfair to Elliott, one of the league’s standout running backs. The Cowboys have a bye this weekend.
The NFL countered that it followed procedures under the league’s labor deal and that the union improperly filed a lawsuit before the appeals process was complete.
The most likely destination for further legal challenges from players’ union attorneys representing Elliott is with the Southern District of New York. The NFL filed in that federal court after Elliott’s NFL appeal was denied by arbitrator Harold Henderson last month.
If Elliott’s legal team can’t put the suspension on hold again, it will begin Oct. 22 at San Francisco. Elliott played the first five games while the case was in the courts.
Elliott was suspended in August by Commissioner Roger Goodell after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 with Tiffany Thompson, his girlfriend at the time. Prosecutors in Columbus, Ohio, decided not to pursue the case in the city where Elliott starred for Ohio State, citing conflicting evidence.
Last year’s NFL rushing leader as a rookie, Elliott’s legal team filed the lawsuit on his behalf in the Eastern District of Texas before Henderson had rejected the appeal.
The NFL had already agreed to let Elliott play in the opener before Elliott’s request for an injunction was granted by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant in Sherman, north of Dallas. Henderson ruled against Elliott the same day Mazzant heard arguments over the injunction.
The NFL filed in the New York court because it is the home of league headquarters and was the site of Elliott’s appeal hearing with Henderson.
The league won the “Deflategate” decision in the New York court, leading to New England quarterback Tom Brady serving his four-game suspension a year after it was originally imposed. A federal judge had put Brady’s suspension on hold.
In the Elliott case, league attorneys wrote to the 5th Circuit that the union’s lawsuit had resulted in “hopelessly doomed proceedings” that shouldn’t continue.
The NFLPA has argued that Mazzant had jurisdiction because Elliott exhausted his appeal before filing the lawsuit when Henderson rejected requests for the testimony of Goodell and Thompson. Elliott’s attorneys also say the NFL violated the labor deal by withholding key information from Goodell and Elliott’s representatives.