CANTON, Ohio (105.3 THE FAN) – A thesis statement: Which is most troubling? 1) Ezekiel Elliott’s “accumulation of behaviors.’’ 2) The NFL’s bungling “investigation’’ of the Dallas Cowboys star’s actions. Or 3) the media’s irresponsible “coverage’’ of the story.
The probe into Ezekiel Elliott’s on-the-field incidents and antics moved to an in-real-time stage on Thursday during NBC’s telecast of the Cowboys preseason opener against the Cardinals here in Canton. Al Michaels and Michele Tafoya essentially reported that Elliott’s singular problem with the crime-and-punishment division of the NFL is “domestic violence.’’ They were soon corrected by a guest in the booth, the ebullient Jerry Jones, who won’t let the Elliott issue cloud Jones’ big weekend as a Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee.
“The domestic violence is not an issue,” Jones said. “Zeke has had some other things that have been looked at and are being looked at. But from the domestic violence issue, there’s not an issue.’’
NBC put too sharp a point on the width and breadth of this investigation. Jones, in trying to swing the pendulum the opposite way, did the same.
Then on Friday afternoon, Jones told reporters that he doesn’t anticipate Elliott getting suspended over the incidents.
Here are the facts, and the informed conclusions, from the “Sex, Lies And Videotape’’ issues facing the NFL, the Cowboys, Elliott, and the media.
*If NBC truly believes the Elliott probe is singularly about domestic violence, they are dangerously misinformed. I wonder if they’re following the lead of ESPN’s Adam Schefter, who started reporting the same “domestic-violence only’’ hoohah back on Friday, July 14 — the same day I continued reporting that the league had already informed those involved (possibly Elliott himself included) that the concerns were absolutely not limited to the two unproven domestic violence charges against him but were, rather about “an accumulation of behaviors.’’ That’s the exact phrase used by multiple sources when discussing the situation with me.
*What are those behaviors? They began to come under the NFL microscope 18 months ago when an Elliott girlfriend accused him. They intensified on his July 22, 2016 birthday when she accused him again. (I might argue that remaining acquainted with a woman long enough for her to falsely accuse you of domestic violence twice, six months a part, is evidence enough of Elliott’s poor behavior.) Subsequently, they include everything from an ill-advised visit to a Seattle head shop to some chauvinistic playfulness with a female friend at Dallas’ St. Patrick’s Day parade to a well-established concern for Zeke’s status as what I call “The Mayor of McKinney Ave.,’’ and the nocturnal habits that usually accompany the club behavior of a man in his early 20’s with unlimited funds and what Jones calls “rock star’’ status.
Indeed, on the weekend of the incident at Clutch, the Uptown nightspot — the incident that included Elliott and featured an acquaintance of his getting his nose punched sideways — Elliott was out on that Friday and that Saturday before getting in trouble on that Sunday.
“He suffers,’’ a friend of Elliott’s tells me, “from FOMO.’’
That is, “The Fear of Missing Out.’’
Ezekiel Elliott just doesn’t know when it’s time to call it a night.
*The NFL can suspend Ezekiel Elliott for as long as it wishes. It is all-powerful in these matters.
*The NFL investigator, who has a powerful voice here, is named Lisa Friel. She’s a “rabid’’ New York Giants fan.
*Jerry told NBC, “We’re preparing our team for Zeke (to play in Week 1) and should.” Jones repeated that sentiment on Friday. But two weeks ago, he told me they’re prepared for the loss of such a player, spinning his answer to note that in football, injuries cause a team to always be prepared.
One way Dallas was prepared last year? It kept Darren McFadden in cold storage, with a not-very-serious injury … just in case.
Watch and see. The Cowboys’ 53-man roster/injury-storage list will not be short on running backs.
Just in case.
*I believe Jerry already knows what the league will decide. An NFL spokesman says a decision has not yet been made by the league regarding Elliott and a possible suspension. I think that’s a fib.
For a guy who is such a blabbermouth, Jerry’s keeping a good secret here.
*We know that Elliott met with league officials in New York. Tafoya reports that it was in June. She says commissioner Roger Goodell was present; Deadspin says he was not. I’m not sure that’s material. Again, the NFL is its own lawmaker.
What’s important about that come-to-Goodell meeting, to me, is that after the meeting, which I’m told was designed to be a scared-straight-style wrist slap for the player, Elliott followed it up by partying on that Friday, that Saturday and that Sunday.
It’s not against the law to party. But it can be against “NFL law’’ — especially if the commissioner just cautioned you against doing so.
*It is a testament to the Cowboys allure and power, I think, that there is no videotape of Elliott doing anything unsavory at Clutch. A technological miracle-in-reverse, really.
By the way, an NFL source tells me the Clutch incident hasn’t been paper-clipped onto Zeke’s should-we-suspend-him file.
*Jerry has now twice called an announcement of the ruling “imminent.’’ The last “imminent’’ was a week ago.
That’s not really very “imminent.’’
*”It’s been my experience that when players have that type of attention, create that type of dynamic, they learn,’’ Jones told NBC. “They’ll hit that hot stove two or three times, but then they’ll quit touching.’’
It would be helpful for the league to learn from touching that hot stove, too, and to formulate a policy that is strict and clear. The lack of transparency and consistency in its rulings begs for criticism. And that’s not a pro-Cowboys take; I can argue that the reason Elliott isn’t already suspended is because the league is “pro-Cowboys,’’ with no real desire to send one of its stars to the gallows.
It would be helpful for the media to do the same, though we’re so energized from chasing our own tails that we can’t keep straight our own tales. Witness ProFootballTalk.com, which on Thursday night wrote, “The idea that the league is investigating a pattern of behavior rather than the domestic violence allegations is a new one,’’ a take that directly conflicts with the truth, which the same website acknowledged back on July 17 when linking to my initial report on the Uptown incident.
“Mike Fisher of 105.3 The Fan, citing an unnamed source, reports that the league will look at the “accumulative nature of Zeke’e behavior,” Mike Florio wrote, “which means that Elliott could be suspended not for any one thing but for being involved in several of them, from the domestic violence allegations to the St. Patrick’s Day Parade misbehavior to whatever occurred last night.’’
It would be helpful, most of all, though, for Ezekiel Elliott to quit touching that hot stove. (There are some who wonder if any actual short-term suspension might do his maturity process some good.) For the benefit of the Cowboys, and for the benefit of Elliott, it would be tremendous if “he’s only 22’’ morphs quickly into “he’s a face of a billion-dollar company and needs to avoid troublesome behaviors.’’
Not necessarily “criminal’’ behaviors. Just “troublesome’’ ones. And the accumulation of them.
From Jerry to NBC:
“There are a couple of issues that might or might not fall — and that’s going to be up to the league to the decide — under the behavioral guidelines.’’
That’s exactly the truth.
As Thursday’s preseason-opening win closed and the Cowboys trotted to the tunnel, Ezekiel Elliott spotted Tyron Smith 20 yards ahead of him. Zeke didn’t play due to his don’t-risk-it value. Tyron is in the same category, but is also nursing a tight back.
And here came Elliott, rumbling toward Smith, charging at his buddy’s blindest side — from directly behind him — eventually bringing 20 yards of acceleration and some of an NFL rushing champ’s full force into a playful collision.
Tyron was stunned for a second, and then gave chase to Elliott as he darted around the field, grinning that toothy, goofy grin.
Ezekiel Elliott is not a criminal. But he’s a class clown. He can’t do anything about the bungling NFL or the irresponsible media. But he can tone down the clownishness. Just a notch. In a way that calms the behavior and slows the accumulation.