The NFL denies hiding critical information about the Ezekiel Elliott case and other assertions made in a petition filed Thursday by the NFL Players Association, which is seeking to prevent the league from enforcing any suspension for the Dallas Cowboys' star running back.
The NFLPA's request, filed Thursday night in U.S. District Court in Texas, alleges the forthcoming ruling by appeals officer Harold Henderson -- who heard this week Elliott's appeal of his six-game suspension for violating the personal conduct policy -- is based on an appeal process that has "deprived the union and Elliott of fundamental fairness."
Among other things, the petition alleges the league deliberately hid critical information from Elliott and the union that could have been used to exonerate him, including that the NFL's lead investigator on the case, Kia Roberts, found the woman who accused Elliott wasn't credible and there was insufficient corroborating evidence to support any discipline.
"They're trying to create a grand conspiracy story where none exists," league spokesman Joe Lockhart told NFL.com on Friday.
Lockhart also disputed key aspects of a report by The Fort Worth Star-Telegram on Thursday: that Lisa Friel, the league's senior vice president of investigations, barred Roberts from the meeting in which Friel recommended a six-game suspension to Commissioner Roger Goodell; and that Roberts testified in the appeal hearing that she recommended no discipline.
Asked if it would be common for an investigator to make a disciplinary recommendation in such a case, Lockhart said: "No. In fact, at Kia's level, she wouldn't, and she didn't. She made her point of view on particularly the credibility issues known in the report; they are reflected in the report. It is the commissioner and the commissioner's sole role to decide on discipline. In fact, the union filed a grievance to force him not to delegate the decision" on disciplinary decisions under the personal conduct policy that was strengthened in Dec. 2014.
Last year, the federal court system ultimately upheld the commissioner's broad authority under Article 46 of the collective bargaining agreement to decide discipline in ruling against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady in the Deflategate case.
As it did in the Brady case, the NFLPA filed a temporary restraining order motion Friday that, if granted by a judge, would allow Elliott to play if Henderson upholds all or part of the six-game suspension. Otherwise, Elliott would be barred from taking part in any team activities starting Sept. 2. The motion hearing will take place in court on Tuesday at 5 p.m. CT.
Prosecutors in Ohio did not charge Elliott, 22, and he has denied wrongdoing. But in a statement released by the league, Todd Jones, the NFL's Special Counsel for Conduct, said independent advisers who reviewed the evidence gathered by the league "were of the view that there is substantial and persuasive evidence supporting a finding that [Elliott] engaged in physical violence against Ms. Thompson on multiple occasions during the week of July 16, 2016."
Elliott's attorneys released a statement early Friday that said in part: "Mr. Elliott looks forward to being completely vindicated and will continue to explore all other legal options to redress the reputational and monetary harm that he has suffered."