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Ezekiel Elliott, NFL’s Future, and Realities for Modern Fans

Last night, many of us waited anxiously for hours as 's injunction hearing took place in New York. You probably know what went down. If you don't, here you go.

There will be a time to talk about and . But today's not that day. I'm not ready to move on.

I feel violated.

I'm not the one being labeled as a domestic abuser. I'm not the one who stands to lose money and reputation. I'm not the one losing games in my physical prime. I'm not the one who must feel like he's letting his teammates and fans down, no matter how much of it is out of his control.

And yet I, just one of those millions of fans, still feel violated.

In all its efforts to “protect” an alleged victim, the NFL has assuredly victimized Ezekiel Elliott. Less importantly, it's victimized every fan of the . The league's made it clear that its own public relations agendas and concern over its own power are more important than fairness and basic human decency.

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While this asshat is the face of the evil, it goes well beyond Goodell.  He has advisers who tell him what's in the best interest of the league. He has owners who prop him up because he's their yes-man and scapegoat. They're all part of the problem.

The curtain has been torn. The wall has been broken. The myth and magic of professional football has died.

They killed it.

As a young sports fan, and even many adult ones, you have the naive belief that you're the most important person in the game. You put and in the same category as He-Man and Luke Skywalker; real live action heroes made for your entertainment.

But if you get too much into the game, you start to realize how little you matter. It's not about your cheers but your money.  It's not about your love, but how you help boost TV ratings to mollify advertising partners. You're only as important as the dollars and hours you spend helping fill the coffers.

Of course, this isn't just about the league or the owners. Many of the players are also out there for money. This is why some people love and have no time for the NFL; the perception that professional athletes aren't doing it for the love of the game and the fans. This is often exaggerated, but hardly untrue. Many players wouldn't play if the money wasn't so good.

Most have come to this realization and get over it, though. Maybe it's not as mystical as when you were a kid, but that's okay. You still love the game and seeing it played at the highest level. You love getting into , the draft, and perhaps a few fantasy teams. It's still highly entertaining, even once you realize your true place in the universe.

Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 1

I can only speak for myself, of course. You may not feel the same way.

For me, what's happened over these many months with Ezekiel Elliott and the NFL's disciplinary process has shattered what was left of my naivety. Despite everything I understood about the cold, hard realities of professional football, I still believed that the league wasn't out to completely screw its players. Even if it was politically or otherwise advantageous for the NFL, I never thought they'd go this far.

The NFL never cared about Tiffany Thompson, just like they don't care about you or me. They saw an opportunity to try to regain some ground on the landscape. They thought they could use another star to make up for all the mistakes they made with Ray Rice.

This was never about whether or not Zeke actually committed domestic violence. That was made clear by how little the league seemed concerned with Thompson's testimony or the full facts of the case. It's been painfully obvious for some time that everything the NFL's done was to put the teeth back into its own botched domestic violence policy.

The NFL screwed up with Rice and Josh Brown. They decided on lenience in cases far more clear-cut than Elliott's, undermining their own policy. They created their own problem and tried to use Zeke's fame to fix it.

But Zeke's case isn't just flimsy. There is documented proof that Thompson prompted friends to lie in her favor. At times it reads like the case from To Kill a Mockingbird, a white woman lashing out with a false accusation to spite her former romantic partner. She even told Elliott that nobody would believe him, a black man, over her.

This is ugliness. This is dark, nasty human reality; personal and painful.

And the NFL is trying to turn it into a billboard.

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We aren't talking about a blown call on a catch anymore. This isn't incompetence or a bad rule. This is a man's name and life being severely harmed over corporate agendas.

It's astounding that the NFL could take the stance it has against Elliott. While it is the union's job to protect players, the NFL is supposed to protect the game as a whole. The players are part of that game, and the most important part when it comes to public reception. They are the conduit to the fans.

The league didn't even have to be on Elliott's side here. They just had to be neutral! They just had to be fair. But no, they went all in on an accusation and tried to turn one of their brightest young stars into an advertisement for how much the NFL cares about domestic violence.

Injustice is hardly new in society, but sports are supposed to be our escape from the negativity in the world. They're supposed to be entertainment, not another battlefield for the same social and political warfare that's going on all around us.

Roger Goodell and his camp have destroyed the NFL's role in American society. Football Sunday is no longer a time to get away from life's problems. For some, it may now be your greatest source of frustration.

Owners seem to finally be waking up to how poorly Goodell's reign has gone. The financial increases were organic and would've happened under any commissioner. What he's had a truly personal role in has almost all gone poorly. The NFL's public image is far worse now than when Roger Goodell took office.

appears to be at the forefront of a movement to at least limit Goodell's power, if not remove him completely. There is talk of conference calls and meetings between a group of owners concerned about moving forward with the current power structure. Perhaps Roger's role as the league's scapegoat will ultimately lead to his dismissal now that he's the face of the incompetence and corruption.

We have to hope the owners can do something, because we certainly can't. As much we like to think fans matter, the NFL will keep on rolling along even as ratings decline. It will still be the most-watched product on TV for some time; it has a wide cushion before true financial trouble comes.

… I don't know what to tell you anymore.

The NFL is what it is now. It's the Roman Empire, already peaked and now starting to decline. New challenges with social and political issues and the CTE crisis will continue its erosion.

Desperate moves like what we've seen with Ezekiel Elliott are going to continue. Like an aging actress trying to stay beautiful, the NFL is going to keep looking for ways to cosmetically improve itself without being able to stop the inevitable. Some efforts will work and others, like its handling of Zeke's case, will leave it looking like Renee Zellweger.

We each have to decide, as fans, how much we can deal with the botched jobs. When does our love of football finally get overwhelmed by our frustration with the league's practices? When does the infiltration of the ugly realities of life finally take away too much of what makes football an escape?

For me, it's closer than it's ever been. Even though I know Ezekiel Elliott's situation isn't over, that he can still appeal and potentially win in the end, last night really knocked me back a few steps.

Of course, six games from now, he'll be back. Maybe Dallas still makes the . Maybe 2017 ends on an amazing note. Maybe we'll all forget about how awful we feel today.

But then again, maybe we shouldn't. I will never forget the line from “Boondock Saints:”

“Now, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men.”

If we just put all this behind us and keep on cheering, who are we? What are we? If we just shake our heads and move on, aren't we giving the NFL exactly what it wants?

I don't know what the alternative is, or if there is one. Stop watching football? Boycotting? I'm not here to tell you that's something to do. I doubt I'd do it myself.

But it's the fact that I'm actually now using those words, considering those options, that tells you exactly how perilous the NFL's situation is. I'm a fan in southwest Virginia with no real local ties to an NFL team, yet still doggedly loyal to one of its franchises. I promote its product through online activity out of passion for the game, not any significant financial incentive.

Now I'm starting feel like part of the problem, too.

The NFL is clearly going to keep making decisions based on its own agendas, players, fans, and even fairness be damned. It doesn't love me. Why should I love it?

Emotions can turn quickly. Our deepest loves can become our strongest hates. Football has been one of my greatest loves since I was old enough to understand it.

Now I'm older and I understand way more than I ever wanted to. And I'm starting to hate what I know.

And I hate Roger Goodell and the league for making me feel this way.

Jess Haynie
Jess Haynie
Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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John Williams

Goodness, Jess. This was awesome. Well said and I can feel the emotion coming off the page. Your words reflect a lot of what Cowboys fans are feeling. Great job.

Jess Haynie

Thanks John. I hope it helped give a voice to what others were feeling.

tom

I will say that the biggest long term issue is CTE. This “hiccup” of Zek and Commissioner’s powers will be solved by next CBA. Goodell will unlikely be part of next CBA discussion if owners read the tea leaves NFLPA have been trumpeting as well as Jerry Jones. Look for a milk toast commish as successor to Goodell.

Jess Haynie

It is starting to feel like Goodell will take the fall for the NFL’s PR nightmares. The next guy may not be any better, but he can’t be any worse.

Corey

I agree with you 100%. It may be just me, but to me this whole mess seems like Goodell has been out to make an example of Elliott. As long as Goodell and his minions are running things the NFL will suffer. I find it amazing that the NFL investigators found evidence of domestic violence when the Police couldn’t find any. Why these guys should quit working for the NFL and become detectives if they are that good

Jess Haynie

The NFL is going to keep running into problems as it ignores the legal system and enforces its own brand of “justice.”

Bryson Treece

tbh I think that regardless of any effect Jones and other owners may manage to have with Goodell, the expiration of the current CBA is going to be a very harsh wakeup call for the NFL. The Players are the league, and these continued abuses by the league have already shown the NFLPA that things need to change. They’re outside the power structure corrupting the league and have different agendas. They got screwed on the PCP and know it. How bad the cracks get before the CBA is renewed, no one knows. Just hope it’s not too bad. Great read, Jess.

Jess Haynie

I think you’re 100% right about the new CBA. Assuming that DeMaurice Smith is still the head, he’d had years of hearing how badly he screwed the last one. He will need a win to keep the players’ faith and his job. And with Goodell fearing the bad press from any kind of work stoppage and another sign that he can’t avoid catastrophes in any league mater, it could mean the players gain some real ground in the negotiations.

XaqFields

Great article, and something I wish the NFL would read and understand.

My NFL fanship began being tested when they handed down this 6-game suspension to start with. Then, the NFL set up their sham of an appeals process which brought to light even more corruption in this “investigation,” including a deliberate attempt to silence their lead investigator who found Zeke’s accuser to not be credible, along with the “independent arbitrator” having no interest in speaking to Zeke’s accuser before making his decision. I felt like the NFL jabbed another knife in my back with that one.

Then to see the NFL stumbling over itself desperately trying to make sure Zeke serves a suspension that may later be determined in the court of law to be unjust… I don’t know how to defend the NFL in my mind anymore. I find their behavior to be incorrigible. The fact that this can be fixed in the next CBA is no solution to me because we as fans shouldn’t require a written contract to prevent the NFL from behaving like creeps. We deserve better than that, and so do the players. We deserve a league that *organically* wants discipline to be fair and just for the players and for the fans it impacts.

There’s a good chance I don’t watch much/any NFL football for the next six weeks. I wouldn’t call it a boycott but rather a legitimate reduction in my general interest in the NFL. I have sat through countless suspensions as a Cowboys fan and I always rightfully blame the player who earned the suspension. This is different. Anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes researching this whole ordeal knows this is nothing more than an example of tremendous overstep by the league office and frankly it has squashed the majority of my enthusiasm for the game.

Jess Haynie

I think you’ve illustrated one of the NFL’s greatest flaws in its strategies. It assumes that fans will just roll with the punches because our loyalty is more about teams than players. This may be true on the whole, but we do take things that happen to our favorite players personally. The league thought it would win points by going after one of its biggest stars, but instead it only antagonized its largest and most visible groups of fans.

XaqFields

That’s a great point. I think the NFL is “behind,” here in the Twitter age in this regard. I mean, fans have always had an affinity for certain players (Zeke is my favorite player currently in the league) but with the advent of Twitter it is easier now than ever for a single player to have hordes of adoring fans that are easily influenced. Indeed, Zeke has about 2 million followers on his Twitter account. The majority of which –without a doubt– are every bit as outraged as we are about his treatment by the NFL. Players have a voice now, so it’s much more difficult to sweet poor decisions under the rug.

ArmyVet78

The NFL AND COMMISSIONER ROGER GOODELL have Royally Screwed this one up. Tiffany Thompson could never proof that Domestic Violence ever took place. There is plenty of proof that she’s the World’s Most Caniving Bitch and she is only Money Hungry. She can’t even get a good paying job as a normal human being. She probably couldn’t even make it as as sorry hooker on the street. The NFL is already loosing face with the Fans on the National Anthem and will continue to lose Fans if they continue with Domestic Violence against Ezekiel Elliott. Commissioner Roger Goodell might not even get an Extension Contract. Goodell has failed to Stand Firm on the Fan Side for the National Anthem and now is against Ezekiel Elliott for Domestic Violence. One owner that will definitely be against Goodell is Jerry Jones. Jones can convince other owners to lay the hammer on Goodell and cut the contract and let him go. That would be the best solution to safe face with the Fans. A New Commissioner is needed for the NFL. It doesn’t take a trained monkey to do the job of being the NFL Commissioner. I could do that job if given the opportunity and it would be a whole much better than Goodell has done.

Martin Downing III

Excellent article. I find myself feeling just like yourself. I have decided that I’m not giving the NFL anymore of my money. I will not renew my Sunday Ticket Package with DirecTv. I have subscribed since it’s inception in 1994. I won’t pay for anymore NFL Merchandise nor will I be purchasing any game tickets. I’m going to cancel my Sirius Radio subscription. The Cowboys are on local (Vermont) TV for free about 14 times a year and I will have to live with missing the 2-4 games a year that aren’t broadcast locally for free

Jess Haynie

So many feel the same way, Martin. It’s definitely one of the worst times for fan morale, arguably worse than than during strikes.

Bruce W. Cobb

Definitely Well Said! But, the point some are overlooking is that in my opinion, the NFL broke the CBA by not ensuring the player a fair hearing. The alleged “arbitrator” is not a neutral third-party; but, is an agent of the NFL. This is like trying a dog for the murder of a cat with a jury composed of cats!!

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