There are multiple problems facing the NFL right now from declining ratings, controversies surrounding players’ political actions and the seemingly unsolvable problem of concussions. However, none of those things present as immediate of a problem to the league then the growing dispute between Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and commissioner Roger Goodell.
For those of you who don’t know, Dallas Cowboys star running back Ezekiel Elliott was accused of physically assaulting his girlfriend in the summer of 2016 after she contacted police in Ohio. The case came at a time when the NFL was clearly looking to take a stronger stance against domestic violence.
Many criticized the NFL for its four-game suspension of Greg Hardy, a defensive end who was found guilty of beating his girlfriend, strangling her and threatening to kill her but had the charges dismissed when Hardy appealed because the victim didn’t show up to court and they later reached a civil settlement.
Critics said four games was a slap on the wrist for a heinous crime that he was at one time found guilty of and Hardy’s poisonous behavior on the field and in the locker room with the Cowboys only kept the issue in the news cycle throughout the season. All the negative press only made Roger Goodell want to punish domestic abusers more severely.
Elliott was his first chance to prove the NFL would now be taking it seriously by punishing one of the best players in the NFL for what he did. The only problem is there is reasonable doubt that he falsely accused.
Elliott was accused of assaulting the victim while in Columbus, Ohio, so the investigation was handled by the city’s attorney office who announced no charges would be filed against Elliott in September of 2016. They cited “conflicting and inconsistent information” as a primary reason for the decision.
That information was conflicting and inconsistent because after the accuser and Elliott were forced to turn over their phone records, investigators found text messages between the accuser and a friend in which she told the friend to lie to police and instructed her on what to tell them on the specifics of how Elliott abused her. The friend did not do so and said in a written statement that Elliott never assaulted her.
Several witnesses also said they saw the accuser tell Elliott she would ruin his life at a night club which Elliott said was a result of him refusing to take her back home with him. The accuser did have bruises on her body though so the possibility of the assault was still present but not enough for prosecution.
The NFL decided to continue to investigate the matter citing the situation as a possible violation of the league’s personal conduct policy. The NFL investigation was coming to a close in the summer of 2017 and Jerry Jones told the media in late July that he was confident there was no evidence against Elliott.
ESPN reported this confidence stemmed from a call between Jones Goodell that occurred in May in which Goodell gave the impression that Elliott would not be punished. On Aug. 9, Goodell called Jones to inform him that Elliott would be suspended six games this season.
Jones responded threatening Goodell to come after him with everything he’s got and referring a past controversy that saw Goodell go against Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft, Jones said he would make Kraft look like a, let’s just say, expletive for wimp.
And so began the saga that is so poisonous to the league, it has forced the kneeling controversy that was surrounding the NFL to take a back seat to this. After a season full of courtroom back-and-forth, Elliott was able to play through the Cowboys first eight games but after his suspension was upheld in court yet again, he withdrew his appeal and is currently serving the full sentence.
Jones’ actions against the league have only increased since Elliott has accepted the suspension. He felt his star was being unfairly punished and it was hurting his chance at an ego-fulfilling Super Bowl win he is so desperate for.
The reason the personal vendetta of the most powerful owner in the league is affecting the whole league is because Goodell’s contract as commissioner is up in March 2019 and the owners voted unanimously in May to approve the extension and gave the league’s six-owner compensation committee full authority to work out the details.
Earlier this month, news broke that Jones was hiring a lawyer to begin a process to sue the NFL and individual owners on the committee to block the extension. This is a nearly unprecedented move not because it’s an owner turning against the commissioner but his fellow owners as well.
Jones alleges that Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank, who is the chairman of the committee, changed the rules of the votes necessary to approve the extension from a unanimous one to a simple majority. This obviously takes away a huge piece of power for Jones who likely would’ve voted against the extension.
To be fair to Jones, he has expressed his concerns of Goodell’s more outlandish requests like wanting a private plane and health insurance paid for life and preferred the commissioner take on a performance-based contract.
However, the timing is suspect given he voted the committee has absolute authority with the extension talks and was one of Goodell’s staunchest defenders in 2014 when the Ray Rice domestic violence case had most of the country against the commissioner.
Now Jones has tried multiple times to get the committee to stop negotiation process until all owners can all be satisfied with it while the committee has told Jones to stop “conduct detrimental to the league.” Rumors have begun to swirl that some of the owners are considering to pursue disciplinary actions against Jones as a result. The Wall Street Journal reported several owners have discussed the possibility of taking the Cowboys away from Jones.
An ESPN article even reported that Jones wants his message to Goodell to be “I run this league and you better get with it,” and that is why this is so significant. Jones is attempting to prove his power by flexing it over the man he put in charge and it seems to be backfiring.
The owners have always been an oddly connected group placing unity above all else to ensure the billions keep coming into the league. What Jones is doing is taking advantage of a volatile situation around the league and attempting to consolidate power with it.
Jones was a key player in moving the Raiders to Las Vegas and the Rams to Los Angeles and has so much power one owner referred to him as the “shadow commissioner”. If Jones wins this, he won’t be the shadow commissioner anymore. People will know his power.
Of course the irony in all of this is, at least for now, it looks like Jones breaking off from that unity within the owner group to wage war on their league is actually strengthening that unity. Not a single owner has come forward and put their name on an endorsement of Jones’ attempts to derail this and it seems as if they’re mostly running to Blank’s support.
The ultimate irony is by attempting to get the 24 owner votes needed to end the negotiation talks, Jones is actually losing the influence and power he is attempting to take advantage of to overrule Goodell.
In a piece run by CBS Sports, a league insider broke down the situation perfectly, “This is way over the top, you don't threaten to sue your business partners because you are pissed off that your running back got suspended. That's not how business is conducted in the league. Jerry already had only a handful of guys backing him on this and he is isolating himself more and more by doing things this way. This isn't how you try to get your way in the NFL. It's not going to work."
Jones is starting a fight that will continue for many more months and will continue to be a constant source of bad PR for the league and he likely won’t even win. The power struggle in the NFL only further politicizes football in a world where fans constantly say they hate exactly that happening to the sport.
Jerry Jones is going to make sure he gets his shot at revenge and to firmly establish his power and is costing himself exactly that while not caring who he drags down with him.
Tad Desai covers sports and education for The Sealy News. He can be reached at 979-885-3562 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.