A campaign to paint Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's accuser, Tiffany Thompson, in the "worst possible light has led to a rapid and unexpected escalation of words between the NFL" and the NFLPA, according to David Moore of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Elliott's camp is attempting to portray Thompson "as an unhinged ex out to ruin his career." The NFL yesterday issued a statement charging the NFLPA with an "orchestrated effort to spread derogatory information." The release from NFL Exec VP/Communications Joe Lockhart "called the tactics shameful." The union responded a short time later "charging that the NFL lied in its release and accused the league office of stooping to new lows." Before this verbal barrage, the league "confirmed that Harold Henderson had been designated by commissioner Roger Goodell to hear Elliott's appeal." The exchange, 13 days before Elliott's appeal is scheduled to be heard, "introduces yet another variable into the high-stakes proceedings." With both sides having "chosen to go down this road, it's hard to envision either will turn back before Aug. 29" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/17). In N.Y., Gary Myers writes the relationship between the NFL and the NFLPA has "always been bitter, hostile and contentious and now may have hit an all-time low." The statement from Lockhart "accused the NFLPA of a smear campaign against Thompson." Lockhart in the statement wrote, "Efforts to shame and blame the victims are often what prevent people to report violence and/or seek help in the first place." The NFLPA in response wrote, "The public statement issued on behalf of every NFL owner is a lie. ... We know the League office has a history of being exposed for its lack of credibility. This is another example of the NFL's hypocrisy on display and an attempt to create a sideshow to distract from their failings in dealing with such serious issues" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 8/17).
PULLING NO PUNCHES: PRO FOOTBALL TALK's Mike Florio cited a source as saying that NFLPA leadership is "'seething' over the situation." Sources said that part of the problem is that the information that has surfaced in recent days regarding Thompson comes "directly from the 160-page investigation report created by the league" (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 8/16). ESPN's Matt Hasselbeck, who serves on the NFLPA Exec Committee, said he was "offended by the fact that the NFL would say the NFLPA was leaking information about a victim." Hasselbeck: "No one there would do that. ... This is where the gloves come off and this is where it gets ugly" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 8/16). Cardinals LB and NFLPA Exec Committee member Lorenzo Alexander: "I don't even know what to say to place something like that on us, but it just shows you that they'd go to any means to make themselves look good" ("PFT," NBCSN, 8/17). In Cincinnati, Jim Owczarski reports NFLPA President Eric Winston was as "surprised as many were with the public call-out by the league." He said, "It goes to show you, unfortunately, the way the NFL works and why we have to do the things we do. I think a while ago people didn't realize that. I think they’ve come around to it and they understand why we have to do and why we have to take the positions we take in reference to the league because the league will use its extraordinary reach and its ability to try and curve the narrative away from things they don’t want the narrative to be. And we have to confront that." Winston added, "We’re going to right at 'em. That's just what I believe in. Until I hear otherwise, that’s what we’re going to do" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 8/17).
ROCKY RELATIONSHIP: SI.com's Albert Breer writes the back and forth "wasn't just tweet beef," it is proof this is "no longer about the player or his case, as much it is about the league and the union" (SI.com, 8/17). In Phoenix, Greg Moore writes the appeal of Elliott's six-game suspension has "already devolved into a public shouting match playing out in real time online" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 8/17). ESPN's Suzy Kolber said, "This is off to an ugly start." ESPN's Field Yates: "We haven't even really begun this process and it already feels like it's going to get very ugly." He added, "We know the relationship between the NFL and the NFLPA has long been strained. It has been icy, at best. But it's clear that relationship has not improved at all. As a matter of fact, there's a chance to further deteriorate and become another talking point in this case surrounding Zeke Elliott" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 8/16). CBS Sports Network's Adam Schein said, "This is all below the belt on both sides and totally uncalled for. But this is what happens when there is a lack of trust between Roger Goodell and the league and the players association when it comes to player discipline. This is what happens when [NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith] agrees to let Roger Goodell on full autonomy on player discipline.” Schein: "It felt very low and very juvenile. ... There is a victim here, and I hope everyone can act like adults moving forward" ("Time to Schein," CBSSN, 8/16).
THE PAST IS CATCHING UP: In New Jersey, Tara Sullivan writes the NFL's "scathing statement" was "absolutely stunning in its declarative venom." The battle is "only brewing, but from the player perspective, it is not something that should come as a surprise." The NFL has "made it clear it considers itself its own police force now, and that players will be held to standards higher than those of law enforcement" (Bergen RECORD, 8/17). NBC Sports Bay Area's Ray Ratto said the NFL and the NFLPA "were doing what they're good at, posturing to hold the other as the guilty party." He said, "Once again, this is the NFL trying to have it all three ways where you get to be judge, jury and jailer. It's not a position that suits them" ("The Happy Hour," NBC Sports Bay Area, 8/16). ESPN's Yates said the league and union "sound like an old married couple fighting with each other and spewing back and forth." Yates: "The NFL is probably going to look worse in the end, because I think the public, the fans have a lack of trust with this league after what has taken place over the last few years” (“Mike & Mike,” ESPN2, 8/17). FS1's Shannon Sharpe said the NFL "has a credibility and a trust issue with its patrons." Fans doe not "believe that the NFL is on the up and up on everything, and they try to portray themselves as the victim." Sharpe: "You want the appearance to your fan base that, ‘We're doing everything we can to combat this issue.’ I believe they are, but sometimes they come to the conclusion when the facts don't support that” (“Undisputed,” FS1, 8/17).
SENDING THE WRONG MESSAGE: USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes the NFLPA again has shown "how weak and morally bankrupt" it is, as it is "consistently standing by the men who hit women no matter how monstrous their behavior may be." The union is "now even going so low as to allegedly leak details of the NFL's 160-page investigative report intended for Elliott and the union in an effort to discredit his alleged victim." It is "clear those who are working to try to help Elliott get out of some or all of his punishment are trying to discredit his accuser in the news media with information the NFL itself uncovered and put in its report." If the NFLPA "isn’t actively involved in the victim-shaming, it certainly must know who is," now "would be as good a time as any to tell us." For the NFLPA, it is "business as usual, back to the knee-jerk reaction of defending the indefensible" (USA TODAY, 8/17). THE RINGER's Claire McNear wrote any way it is looked at, the NFLPA's statement "trivializes domestic violence." It is "possible to believe in Elliott’s innocence and to handle allegations of abuse with the sensitivity and thoughtfulness that they deserve." A tweet following the statement is a "blatant attempt to lean into the ugliest and most pervasive stigma that victims face -- that they have invented trauma for personal benefit" (THERINGER.com, 8/16). In Dallas, Sharon Grigsby writes Elliott's suspension may do "more harm to the fight against violence against women than it actually advances the cause" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 8/17).
TWITTER REAX: ThinkProgress.org's Lindsay Gibbs tweeted, "This was not a great look, NFLPA. Just remember, victims are watching." The Nation's Dave Zirin: "'Believe women' is bedrock principle of VAW work. 'Believe NFL' on face value? Believe Goodell? Joe Lockhart? What trust have they earned?" CBS Sports' Patrik Walker: "The statement from the NFLPA is the most powerful statement I’ve heard from them in a a long time, and it’s clear a war is coming." The MMQB's Andrew Brandt: "Mutual lack of trust continues."