There are important questions to ask about the incident in which Ezekiel Elliott exposed a woman in public, but the issue of how the Cowboys running back would be treated in the media if he were white isn’t one of them. And yet here are a couple of dueling headlines, from the Orlando Sentinel and Fox Sports’ Outkick the Coverage:
·Commentary: If Ezekiel Elliott were Rob Gronkowski, we'd be laughing it off
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·If Grayson Allen had pulled a girl’s shirt down like Ezekiel Elliott, he’d be eviscerated by ESPN.
If you’re playing catchup on this one, here’s the Cliff Notes: Elliott—currently under NFL investigation for domestic violence allegations dating from before he entered the league—was filmed pulling a woman’s top down and exposing her breast during a St. Patrick’s Day party in Dallas, in a video published by TMZ. In the extended video, the woman slaps his hand, then pulls her shirt down for the benefit of onlookers. (Reps for Elliott told TMZ the “woman wasn’t upset” and she “hung out with Zeke and a group of friends after the parade ended.”) Meanwhile, the NFL is looking into potential discipline against Elliott over 2016 domestic violence allegations, after an acquaintance of Elliott’s posted photos of bruises she said were inflicted by him. Columbus, Ohio, police did not charge Elliott, citing “conflicting and inconsistent information.”
In the aftermath of the TMZ video, the hottest takes posited how the sports media landscape would cover Elliott if he were white, with commenters cherry-picking examples of white athletes and imagining scenarios that ranged across the full spectrum of sports media world views on race. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski gets a pass for similar behavior because he’s white, argued Max Kellerman on “First Take.” No, said Fox Sports’ Clay Travis, Elliott is the one getting a pass; sports media would rather tear down Duke basketball’s Grayson Allen.
We saw it with Michael Vick, that big unwieldy hypothetical—what if he were white?—and it’s an interesting enough question to ask. But it’s not the first question to ask. Race shouldn’t be our go-to topic of debate when athletes under investigation by their employer for domestic violence are seen and filmed objectifying women.
The easy thing to do is sidestep the big issue—misogyny—and toss up a lazy racial argument without proper consideration for the various differences between Ezekiel Elliott, Grayson Allen and Rob Gronkowski that have nothing to do with race. The hard thing to do is to confront the notion of why a prominent athlete accused of domestic violence would have the gall to stand on a rooftop bar in a crowd of people and expose a woman’s breast, apparently without her consent.
To her credit, ESPN’s Jemele Hill asked the right question when the news broke. “Is there an issue with how he treats and engages women? As I’m watching this video there’s a lot to be assumed and perceived based off his behavior. She is shooing him away, and he looks like a creep. Again, you can be a creep and not necessarily hit women, but is there a pattern in terms of behavior with women that is inappropriate?”
The question to ask yourself is if it’s reasonable to assume that this is the first time Ezekiel Elliott has mistreated or devalued a woman, publicly or privately. What if the culture of violence against women without repercussion, the kind of culture that blossomed at Baylor, is closer to the norm than the exception? Would it matter then, whether Ezekiel Elliott was black or white?