NFL vice president Joe Lockhart says the league is certainly trying to make an impact on the larger social issue of domestic violence and fix past mistakes.
But he said the NFL is not trying to make an example out Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott in the ongoing court battle over domestic violence allegations of former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
Lockhart said the league, however, is trying to reinforce the notion to the players and the world that they will be held to a higher standard.
“We believe that our players should be held to a high standard, and when they meet that standard, we celebrate them. But when they don’t meet that standard, we both educate, give the tools to not make mistakes like that again or to violate the policy, and we discipline them to hold them accountable,” Lockhart said. “Suspending a player for six games has an obvious impact but doing the education we do from the first time these men come into the league will have the most long-term impact. We are not looking to make examples out of anyone, just looking to make sure that people understand that they are being held to a standard of conduct like they would in any employment or organization. And that when they violate that, there are consequences.”
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The consequences with Elliott are a six-game suspension under the personal conduct policy and the possibility of losing nearly $2 million in forfeited salary and returned bonus money. Elliott was never charged or arrested in the case and continues to maintain his innocence.
A 13-month investigation by the NFL cited three instances of domestic violence, resulted in the suspension being handed down by Commissioner Roger Goodell on Aug. 11 and upheld on appeal by NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson.
The issue is now in the federal court system where Judge Amos Mazzant granted a preliminary injunction blocking the suspension until it’s decided in court, citing fundamental unfairness.
Should the NFL leave jurisprudence issues to local law enforcement and get out of the investigation business completely?
Lockhart says no.
“This is a national problem that we don’t have a legal national solution to,” Lockhart said. “We are responsible for our league and our personnel and our players. We have taken the decision that we are going to do more and we are going to hold our players to a standard that is higher than they might meet in the judicial system and that’s the right thing to do. I accept the fact that this is not easy, this is a difficult process but you can see that over time we have learned and put more resources towards it.
“The easy thing to do is to say, ‘let the courts do it.’ There are few platforms in this county where 180 million Americans will say I am a fan of ‘x.’ We are divided in many senses and football is a platform that unites people and brings people together, and that’s great for us as a league and a sport but it also provides a responsibility to take on these issues where we can. This is an area where we think we can, no matter how difficult it is either to get at the facts or deal with the disciplinary system.”
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been on a personal campaign to get the league out of the investigation business. But he understands the visibility of the NFL and the opportunity to serve as an example for the country and society.
“We work our lives, ‘Please look at us. Watch us. Watch our games. Watch our preseason preparation. Watch out training camps,’ ” Jones said. “That’s what we’ve got. We’re out here trying to create that kind of interest all the time and so when these social issues or these kinds of things come up then it shouldn’t surprise us when we’re asked to use that visibility and use that interest to basically do something for the country and society.
“Now, whether you do it in a way that is right or whether you do it in a way that is sensitive to victims, in many areas, whether it be bullying or whether it be domestic violence, well, whether you do that in a way that meets with approval, then that’s hard. We certainly have room to be a lot better in the NFL in all kinds of issues regarding behavior, whether it be league, owners, players, players representatives, or the Players Association. We all need to do better.”