Friday’s media briefing by the NFL focused primarily on the legal strategy that the league has deployed in Ezekiel Elliott‘s case. But the NFL also spent a little time blowing the P.R. horn regarding the NFL Players Association’s defense of Elliott.
NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said the NFLPA is “playing the game of ‘blame and shame’” regarding Elliott’s accuser, Tiffany Thompson. Lockhart dubbed the effort “offensive,” pointing to evidence and argument from the internal appeal hearing made to look Thompson look bad. Lockhart, who once worked for a President whose lawyers were accused of dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct by advancing the “nuts and sluts” defense, also chastised Elliott and the union for putting the 160-page investigation report in the Elliott case “up on the Internet, for everyone to see.”
In fairness to Elliott and his legal team, the investigative report — which was created by the league — is relevant to the question of whether the league’s disciplinary procedures were fair and proper, as applied to Elliott.
Earlier this month, Lockhart criticized NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler for pointing out that Commissioner Roger Goodell had not considered the possibility of mitigating circumstances that may have reduced Elliott’s baseline suspension of six games based on things Thompson had said and done.
In response to Lockhart’s comments, the NFLPA issued on Friday afternoon an open letter to the media.
“This week, the NFL continued their endless spin cycle by using their lawyers and political operatives in a series of background and on-the-record media calls that only included some of you,” the NFLPA wrote. “This is a desperate attempt to rescue whatever credibility they have left with you and the fans. For all of the distractions that the League office has dictated to you this week, here is a reminder about who we are and what we do in the words of the Federal Judge Amos Mazzant in the Elliott decision: ‘Luckily, the NFLPA found the fairness needle in the unfairness haystack. . . .’ The Judge goes on: ‘Consistent with [the NFL’s] previous actions to suppress [their lead Investigator’s] dissenting opinions, the NFL kept this sequence of events from the NFLPA and Elliott until the arbitration hearing. In fact, had the NFL succeeded in its overall goal, this sequence of events would still be concealed from Elliott and the NFLPA.’
“For those of you sticking to the facts, we thank you for your continued accurate coverage of our players and wish everyone good luck in Week 2 of the NFL season.”
The allegations and counter allegations don’t really matter at this point; the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will be deciding sooner or later whether to allow the suspension of Elliott to proceed. But it’s no surprise, given that the NFL’s decision to prosecute privately employees who were never prosecuted publicly arises strictly and completely from P.R. concerns, that these legal maneuverings will continue to have a very real P.R. dynamic.