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Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension is another example of NFL ‘being in a bad place’

Start of the season is marred by this incident

The purpose of having an overzealous disciplinarian as commissioner is to protect the image of the league, making the NFL appear to be a wholesome All-American product, attractive to sponsors and fans.

In 2004, the Malice at the Palace happened in the NBA. Ron Artest and other Indiana Pacers players brawled with drunken Detroit Pistons fans. In the minds of many, the Malice at the Palace cemented the perception of NBA players as thugs. And that is a difficult perception to sell to corporate partners. The NFL, with occasional player conduct issues of its own, noticed what happened to the NBA’s image and began to aggressively punish players for conduct issues.

Before the Malice at the Palace, NFL players were unlikely to be suspended without being charged and convicted of a crime. In comparison, the NBA’s reaction to the Malice at the Palace was to institute a controversial player dress code policy. The NBA’s image is in a good place now. It’s probably not a result of the dress code, but that didn’t hurt. The NFL’s reaction, on the other hand, has hurt its image. The NFL’s decision to empower the commissioner and levy punishment without a conviction or collectively bargaining a conduct policy with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) has backfired. So many of the biggest NFL stories in recent memory are about players being disciplined. And the NFL’s decision to punish players unilaterally with no consistency leaves the players and the NFLPA no other choice but to challenge them in court.

Aside from the future of the particular player, the result of the challenges is to keep NFL discipline issues in the news, further linking the NFL with the issues from which it wishes to distance itself. The domestic violence accusations against Ezekiel Elliott were the catalyst for this offseason’s NFL discipline bungle. It remains unresolved and will surely be a major topic of conversation during the NFL’s biggest showcase, prime-time Sunday Night Football on NBC. Rather than focusing exclusively on the game, when millions of fans tune in to the Dallas Cowboys-New York Giants matchup, the broadcasters will spend a substantial part of the broadcast reminding everyone that the NFL has a domestic violence problem.

Domonique Foxworth is a writer at The Undefeated. He is a recovering pro athlete and superficial intellectual.