A federal judge granted Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott a temporary restraining order Friday afternoon in connection with a six-game suspension imposed by the NFL.
Judge Amos Mazzant said Elliott did not get a "fundamentally fair hearing before the arbitrator" when Commissioner Roger Goddell and Tiffany Thompson were not allowed to testify.
The temporary restraining order allows Elliott to play until a court rules on the lawsuit filed by the NFL Players Association claiming that an investigation into Elliott was unfair.
Following the judge's verdict, the NFL Player's Association tweeted the following statement:
"Commissioner discipline will continue to be a distraction from our game for one reason: because NFL owners have refused to collectively bargain a fair and transparent process that exists in other sports. This "imposed" system remains problematic for player and the game, but as the honest and honorable testimony of a few NFL employees recently revealed, it also demonstrates the continued lack of integrity within their own League office."
The NFLPA filed the lawsuit after the league investigated Elliott and concluded he used physical force last summer against former girlfriend Tiffany Thompson in Ohio. The NFL then suspended Elliott for six games.
Elliott appealed the decision, but an arbitrator upheld the suspension Tuesday. Due to the timing of the decision, the league decided to let Elliott's suspension begin after the Cowboys' Week 1 matchup against the New York Giants Sunday night.
If Mazzant grants the temporary restraining order, Elliott would be able to play for a few weeks while the courts rule on the NFL's motion to dismiss the lawsuit. If they deny the NFL's motion, Elliott could play the entire 2017 season as Tom Brady did during his "Deflategate" case.
If Elliott's motion is denied, he and the NFL Players Association can appeal the decision. He would be subject to the NFL's suspension if the appeal is also denied.
In a statement released Friday evening, Elliott's attorneys, Frank Salzana and Scott Rosenblum, said:
"We just learned of the Honorable Amos Mazzant's decision to grant Mr. Elliott's request for a preliminary injunction staying the NFL's six-game suspension. We are very pleased that Mr. Elliott will finally be given the opportunity to have an impartial decision-maker carefully examine the NFL's misconduct. This is just the beginning of the unveiling of the NFL's mishandling as it relates to Mr. Elliott's suspension. As the Court noted, the question of whether Mr. Elliott received a fundamentally fair hearing was answered ... 'he did not.' We agree."
And in a statement Friday, the NFL said:
"We strongly believe that the investigation and evidence supported the Commissioner's decision and that the process was meticulous and fair throughout. We will review the decision in greater detail and discuss next steps with counsel, both in the district court and federal court of appeals."
The NFLPA's lawsuit accuses the NFL's appeal process of being "fundamentally unfair" after Henderson denied a request to have Elliott's ex-girlfriend testify at the hearing. The lawsuit also accuses NFL special counsel Lisa Friel of withholding from commissioner Roger Goodell the word of co-lead investigator Kia Roberts, who the suit says concluded that the accuser wasn't credible and that Goodell's discipline wasn't warranted.
The NFL's motion to dismiss claims a federal court lacks the jurisdiction to vacate a suspension imposed by the NFL. The motion also counters the NFLPA's assertion that the NFL's ruling is damaging to Elliott.
In a similar case, a person familiar with the ruling says the NFL has suspended former New York Giants kicker and current free agent Josh Brown for six games after a league review of Brown's repeated abuse of his former wife while they were married.
ESPN first reported the suspension, the second handed to Brown for abusing his former wife, Molly.
Brown served a one-game suspension at the start of last season. He was eventually released by the Giants in late October after authorities in Washington state released a report on their investigation into his arrest in 2015. Details in the report angered many because Brown received a suspension of only one game.
U.S. District Court Opinion and Order:
The Associated Press' Schuyler Dixon and Tom Canavan contributed to this report.