The NFL and its players' union became embroiled in an extraordinary public row on Wednesday regarding the suspension of Ezekiel Elliott.
Dallas Cowboys running back Elliott was handed a six-game ban last Friday for violating the league's player conduct policy. The ruling followed a year-long NFL investigation into domestic violence accusations made against Elliott by his ex-girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson. Elliott denies the allegations and was never charged.
On Wednesday, the NFL announced that commissioner Roger Goodell had appointed veteran appeals officer Harold Henderson to hear the 22-year-old's appeal.
In an unprecedented move, the NFL then released a second statement accusing the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) of launching a victim-shaming campaign in the media to discredit Thompson.
Joe Lockhart, the NFL's executive vice president of communications, said in the statement: "Over the past few days we've received multiple reports of the NFLPA spreading derogatory information to the media about the victim in [the] Ezekiel Elliott discipline case," the statement read.
"It's a common tactic to attempt to prove the innocence of the accused by discrediting the victim - in this case Ms. Thompson - when coming forward to report such abuse. Common or not, these tactics are shameful.
"Efforts to shame and blame victims are often what prevent people from coming forward to report violence and/or seek help in the first place."
New NFL statement pic.twitter.com/KJ64RDHVB2— Brian McCarthy (@NFLprguy) August 16, 2017
The NFLPA swiftly responded with a statement of its own, describing the NFL's public comment as "a lie".
"The NFLPA categorically denies the accusations made in this statement," the union said via its official Twitter account.
"This is another example of the NFL's hypocrisy on display and an attempt to create a sideshow to distract from their own failings in dealing with such serious issues. They should be ashamed for stooping to new lows."
The public statement issued on behalf of every NFL owner is a lie. The NFLPA categorically denies the accusations made in this statement. pic.twitter.com/OFOGQY91Ai— NFLPA (@NFLPA) August 16, 2017
Henderson - who is scheduled to hear the appeal on August 29, according to NFL Media - heard Greg Hardy's appeal in 2015. The former Cowboys defensive end's suspension related to a domestic violence incident was reduced from 10 games to four. Henderson has arbitrated player appeals since 2008.
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