By accident or design, the NFL turned commissioner Roger Goodell into a material witness to a federal lawsuit that the NFL Players Association filed on Thursday. In comments to Pro Football Talk and NFL.com, league spokesman Joe Lockhart denied union allegations that the league engaged in a conspiracy to conceal evidence in the Ezekiel Elliott suspension case – adding that Goodell was aware of credibility concerns raised by lead league investigator Kia Wright Roberts.
Goodell’s level of awareness would be a key aspect of the federal lawsuit, particularly where it involves Roberts’ analysis. If the players union advances into litigation seeking to prove conspiracy claims, Goodell could be subject to a deposition, be compelled to turn over pertinent communications and testify under oath in federal court. That’s a significant development for the NFLPA, which in its initial finding alleged that Roberts expressed credibility concerns with Elliott’s accuser but later had that opinion concealed from Goodell and the league’s domestic violence commission.
Lockhart said that allegation is not true, squarely placing Goodell and the commission at the crossroads of a decision to suspend Elliott despite reservations from the lead investigator on the case.
“It’s categorically false that the information was kept from the commission,” Lockhart told Pro Football Talk.
League spokesperson Brian McCarthy echoed Lockhart’s statements to Yahoo Sports on Friday. Specifically that Goodell was fully aware of what Roberts had contributed to the investigation and made his decision after weighing all the analysis – including the reservations Roberts had expressed after interviewing Elliott’s alleged victim, Tiffany Thompson.
A league source told Yahoo Sports on Thursday that Roberts testified in Elliott’s appeal to having written a memo raising interview inconsistencies from Thompson, who has accused the running back of multiple acts of domestic violence. Roberts further testified that she was the only NFL investigator to speak with Thompson on six different occasions and determined there was insufficient evidence to corroborate her claims or suspend Elliott.
The NFLPA followed that testimony up by filing a lawsuit against the NFL on Thursday, alleging that NFL senior vice president of investigations Lisa Friel concealed Roberts’ concerns about Elliott’s accuser and engaged in a conspiracy to withhold information favorable to Elliott.
According to the union’s lawsuit, “Elliott and the Union were subjected to an arbitration process in which, among other things, there was a League-orchestrated conspiracy by senior NFL executives, including NFL Senior Vice President and Special Counsel for Investigations Lisa Friel, to hide critical information, which would completely exonerate Elliott.”
For all intents and purposes, the lawsuit was a preemptive strike aimed at vacating potential punishment upheld by arbitrator Harold Henderson, who is weighing information gathered at the appeal. If Henderson vacates Elliott’s six-game suspension, it’s believed the lawsuit will be withdrawn.
It is hoped by the Dallas Cowboys that Henderson will have his response to the arbitration by Monday, when the first practice week of the NFL’s regular season is slated to begin.