The Ezekiel Elliott story didn’t start at Ohio State, and certainly not with the Dallas Cowboys, but rather in a wealthy, predominately white, private high school in a western suburb of St. Louis.
In the St. Louis suburb of LaDue is John Burroughs School; actor Jon Hamm and actress Ellie Kemper are distinguished John Burroughs alums, as is Zeke.
If you are serious about wanting to know how Zeke is on the fringe of blowing it, start there.
Free pass is the description given to me by one of Zeke’s classmates, who attended John Burroughs with him from the seventh grade through high school. Another word is sheltered.
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The source asked (begged?) not to be quoted on the record.
Zeke Elliott is not be the first athlete to be given a free pass in high school. Or college. Or the NFL.
ESPN’s latest “30 for 30” on the 1988 Dallas Carter Cowboys football team is a cautionary tale about free passes given to high school football players. Stupid tends to follow, sometimes with tragic, life-altering results.
We won’t know until Aug. 29 if the NFL’s six-game suspension will be upheld. That’s when an arbitrator decides Zeke’s appeal. Bet on a reduction. Harold Henderson is the same arbitrator who reduced former Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four in 2015 after he beat up his ex-girlfriend.
Zeke, Jerry Jones, the Cowboys and Cowboys Nation won’t agree, but the best thing for Zeke is to sit and watch. For the sake of his career and his life, Zeke needs a timeout.
Clearly, no one ever put him there.
The NFL can fine him. Jerry Jones can admonish him. The only way this guy is going to understand the edge on which he sits is to take away the game.
Even though we now know that football is likely to be detrimental to long-term health, to take the game away from most of these guys is like removing a limb.
One of the most consistent phrases uttered about Zeke from the Cowboys is that he loves to play the game.
Not all guys love it. Many just love the lifestyle. They love the money. They love hanging around the guys. They don’t know what else to do with their lives but play.
“Zeke loves to play football,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has repeatedly said.
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Even though Coach Process is full of it on many of his statements delivered in his trademark monotone inflection to the media, believe this one.
Someone has to exercise the oldest parental trick in the playbook and take away Zeke’s favorite little red firetruck; take away the game. Because nothing else has worked.
This story turned uglier, as so easily predicted, once Elliott decided to appeal his six-game suspension. His people released a slew of information to discredit the accuser, ex-girlfriend Tiffany Thompson.
The NFLPA stood up for its union-paying member and publicly defended him.
Then the NFL shot back to slam Elliott, the union and the representatives for trying to discredit a potential victim of domestic violence.
This pool of scum is dirtier now than it was one week ago, when it was already a cesspool.
You know it’s time to re-evaluate a relationship when your ex threatens to release the once-celebrated but now-dreaded sex tape. With the Internet nearly full of such free offerings (so I’m told), how can such a threat even be viable?
If Elliott did what the NFL alleges he did to his ex-girlfriend — which is to assault her on three occasions — six games is nothing. He got off easy.
Without visual proof we are stuck sifting through damning allegations and statements, contradictions, and a dose of fear, resentment and a healthy shot of anger.
We will never know exactly what happened other than it’s a giant mess of youthful stupidity.
The NFL didn’t say it, but this suspension is not just about Elliott behavior with an ex-girlfriend in a relationship that appears to have turned unhealthy to combustible. This is about a pattern of behavior that did not begin with the Dallas Cowboys, or at Ohio State, but back in LaDue.
This is about a series of free passes handed out. About about not knowing when to go home. About knowing what not to do in public. About a series of behaviors that never stopped. About punishments and lessons that never went far enough.
Those punishments might have involved running after practice. Maybe they involved a lecture from the teacher or the coach or the well-meaning parent.
They just never took away the game. If Zeke is ever going to learn, someone must take away what he loves the most.
Take away the ball, and tell him to sit and watch while his friends play.
Nothing else has ever worked, because all he’s ever known is a free pass.
Mac Engel: @macengelprof