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Ezekiel Elliott loses latest court battle, clearing way for NFL to enforce suspension

Ezekiel Elliott will likely begin serving his suspension immediately. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)
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A federal judge in New York rejected the NFL Players Association’s latest request for a preliminary injunction for Ezekiel Elliott, potentially clearing the way for the NFL to enforce its six-game suspension of the second-year running back for the Dallas Cowboys.

The ruling was made by U.S. District Judge Katherine Polk Failla after a hearing Monday.

The league has been prevented from enforcing Elliott’s suspension, imposed under the league’s personal conduct policy, all season by a series of court rulings. But barring further legal developments, the NFL now is free to put Elliott’s suspension into effect.

He would miss the Cowboys’ game Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs and then subsequent games against the Atlanta Falcons, Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Chargers, Washington Redskins and New York Giants. He would be eligible to return for the final three games of the regular season, beginning Dec. 17 at Oakland.

Elliott and the NFLPA can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

The implementation of Monday’s order was delayed for 24 hours, allowing the union and Elliott time to consider their options to appeal.

“After reviewing the parties’ comprehensive written submissions and hearing extensive oral argument earlier today, the Court concludes that, on this record, the NFLPA has failed to demonstrate a substantial question warranting the extraordinary remedy of injunctive relief or a balance of hardships that decidedly weighs in its favor,” Failla wrote.

The NFL and NFLPA did not immediately respond to request for comment Monday night.

The NFLPA, Elliott’s legal representatives and the Cowboys have contended that Elliott was not treated fairly during the process that led to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell imposing the six-game suspension and Harold Henderson, a league-appointed arbitrator, upholding it after the NFLPA appealed on Elliott’s behalf.

The players’ union was granted a preliminary injunction by a federal judge in Texas. But that injunction was lifted by a federal appeals court in New Orleans, which ruled that the district court in Texas lacked jurisdiction because the NFLPA filed its lawsuit there before Henderson decided Elliott’s appeal. The case shifted to New York, where the NFL had filed a lawsuit seeking to have Henderson’s ruling on the appeal affirmed. U.S. District Judge Paul A. Crotty granted the union’s request for a temporary restraining order, which remained in effect pending this ruling on a temporary injunction.

Failla wrote in her ruling Monday that while “reasonable minds could differ on the evidentiary decisions made by the arbitrator, the proceedings in their totality accorded with the” sport’s collective bargaining agreement and were fundamentally fair.

“The arbitrator gave Mr. Elliott ample opportunity, in terms of both proceedings and evidence, to challenge the Commissioner’s decision before the arbitrator; the arbitrator’s ultimate decision against Mr. Elliott does not render these proceedings any less fair,” she wrote.

The NFL had said it remained confident in its legal arguments and believed that it eventually would prevail in court. The case is playing out in New York, where a federal appeals court reinstated the four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate case. Brady sat out the first four games of last season after playing the entire 2015 season following a ruling by a federal judge overturning the suspension.

The ultimate outcome of the Brady case seemed to reinforce Goodell’s authority in player disciplinary matters. The NFL has stressed that the precedent from the Brady case applies to the Elliott case as it proceeds in New York.

The league concluded following a lengthy investigation that Elliott, in its view, was guilty of domestic violence in a series of incidents last year involving his former girlfriend. Elliott was not charged with a crime by authorities in Columbus, Ohio.

The Cowboys have a record of 4-3 after beating the Redskins on Sunday at FedEx Field. Elliott, who led the NFL in rushing last season as a rookie, has been very productive on the field in recent weeks, totaling 413 rushing yards in the Cowboys’ last three games.

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