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A tough year for Zeke: While We’re Waiting

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Happy Tuesday, WFNY!

As I considered what I wanted to talk about in this space for this Tuesday, I realized that the only thing on my mind is the same thing I’ve been talking about seemingly every week here: The Cavaliers and Dan Gilbert’s “plan.”

Sure, we’re fewer than 10 days away from the start of Browns training camp and I know everyone is itching to talk about the Browns in these parts. Heck, I am too, actually. But, right now there’s not much I have there. I hate predictions and prognostication. I much prefer analysis based on things we observe. And while the Cavaliers are also in their offseason, it seems like there’s so much more to talk about.

But here’s the thing. I’m not going to talk about the Cavaliers either. I’ve hashed it out to death here and I know everyone’s tired of talking about it. And while not everyone agrees with me that this regular season is going to be fun, I’m absolutely looking forward to the season and watching LeBron James play perhaps his last season ever in Cleveland. So, I don’t want to dwell anymore on the mistakes I feel Dan Gilbert has made with the franchise.

Instead, we’ll look outside the Cleveland box and talk about Ezekiel Elliott. I love Zeke. I think it’s impossible for any fan of Ohio State to not love the guy. He earned our love with his performance on the field, and he won us over with his personality off the field. The guy with the big smile and the fun-loving heart with the crop-top style jersey, Zeke was always great with fans and he was electric with the media. And, on the field, he delivered some stunning performances in helping lead Ohio State to a National Championship in 2014.

In seemingly every way, Zeke was born to be a star. If there was any doubt about that, it slipped away when he was drafted by the famous team with the star on its helmet, the Dallas Cowboys. You could see the endorsements pouring in. Who wouldn’t want Zeke to be a spokesperson for their product?

A lot of that narrative has now changed over the last year as Ezekiel has seen his name in the headlines for off-field incidents time and time again. For Ezekiel, it’s a bit of a strange sequence of incidents. It was alleged by a former girlfriend of Zeke’s that he physically assaulted her several times. At a St Patrick’s Day parade he pulled down a woman’s shirt revealing her breast to the crowd. He visited a legal marijuana dispensary in Seattle. In Columbus, a friend he was with tried to bring a firearm into an establishment. In April he was clocked going 100 mph in a 70 mph zone in Texas. And just this past weekend Zeke’s name has come up in connection with an incident at Dallas bar.

OK, that’s a lot to take in and a pretty wide range of seriousness. We may never know what happened with Zeke and his former girlfriend, so I don’t want to guess. I hate situations like it because physically assaulting anyone is bad enough, but assaulting a female is significantly worse. I don’t want to support someone just because they got away with it. It’s dangerous to say things like “it sure seems like she was making it up”. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t. The reports are suspicious and there are witnesses who reportedly said nothing happened. No charges were ever filed against Zeke after the police investigated the incident. Either way, this alleged incident is the most serious of the allegations.

Pulling down the woman’s top at the parade is also pretty serious. I know some will roll their eyes. “She was laughing about it. She was practically asking for it just by being there.” I’m sorry, I just don’t agree. If she wants to pull down her shirt herself, that’s her choice. Exposing anyone else in public, no matter what the situation, is not cool. And yeah, again, I know we’re such prudes about nudity in this country. Blah, blah, blah. The fact is, it’s her body and nobody has the right to do what Zeke did even if she didn’t have a problem with it.

The rest of the stuff is… whatever. Driving 100 miles per hour isn’t ideal for a multi-million dollar athlete. But, as long as he wasn’t drinking, I’m not too concerned about it. His friend carrying a firearm is not a big deal. It’s perfectly legal for Zeke to visit a dispensary. A lot of these things taken by themselves would be nothing. When it’s part of a repeating pattern, it’s fair for people to be concerned.

Which brings us to Saturday night/Sunday morning’s bar incident. It’s still super early to be discussing this in any detail. We still have no clue what happened. There are certainly conflicting reports from witnesses as to whether Zeke was the one who threw the punch or not:

Twitter user Tom Riddle wrote Sunday night, “I saw @EzekielElliott lay out a [——] out at clutch.”

Another patron, who asked that his name not be used following a conversation via direct message, said “it sure looked like” Elliott.

Michael Huffman, a bouncer from Wichita Falls who was in Dallas on Sunday night, shared on Facebook that Ibeneme, a deejay who goes by the name DJ d’Train, was the instigator and that Elliott didn’t do anything.

He reiterated his stance in a private message to the Star-Telegram.

“It didn’t go down like that,” said Huffman, who said he had a good view because he was close to Elliott hoping to get a selfie. “Everybody is saying that, but he didn’t throw the punch …

“Zeke was just standing there arms folded chilling feeling the crowd. Then I seen DJ getting loud toward the vicinity of Zeke and then I see an overhand right come over the back of Zeke shoulder that landed square in DTrain’s face and he went to sleep. He didn’t even see it. Then the crowd circled and dispersed. I’m surprised a whole video hasn’t been released yet.”

This is the tough thing with Zeke. From a certain perspective, you could say he’s just had a year-long string of bad luck, always in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or, you could say he’s really good at surrounding himself with people who will serve as witnesses to protect Zeke from getting in trouble. Or maybe the truth is he’s a really good guy who just keeps putting himself in bad positions where he can incidentally be involved in things that will grab headlines. Whether he was the one who threw the punch on Sunday night or not, it still feels from an outside perspective like another piece to a developing puzzle.

I’m not one to tell anyone else what to do or how to live their lives. Ezekiel Elliott is a very rich young man with a lot going for him in life. It seems unfair to say he can’t take advantage of the spoils he has earned and to live up life to its fullest. But if you’re the Dallas Cowboys or in Zeke’s inner circle, at a certain point you start to worry a bit. Zeke has certainly cost himself some sponsorship opportunities. It’s hard to have Zeke represent your product when you see how carelessly he apparently represents his organization off the field.

That may sound harsh. It is harsh. But this is the reality. These headlines don’t come out of thin air. Quite frankly, if you’re an athlete and you want to be the life of the party and the guy who constantly pushes the line and is the center of attention, that’s fine. But you also have to embrace the backlash that will come with it. That’s just part of the reality of being a professional athlete, as unfair as that may seem.

But if sponsorships are what Zeke wants, and if he wants the Cowboys to continue to feel good about giving him contracts, it might be time to step back and stay out of the headlines for a while. That means choosing wisely who you go out with, when and where you drive, whether you go out or instead have people just come to your house, and how much access you allow the public to have to you. Plenty of professional athletes have figured out how to still have a good time and take advantage of the perks of being a professional athlete without winding up part of the daily news cycle.

Again, none of this is to say Zeke is a bad guy. By all accounts, he’s still the kid with the bright smile who loves being around people and being a people person. We all make mistakes and it’s unfair to expect Zeke to be perfect. But it’s been a bad year for Zeke from a PR perspective and a lot of it has been self-inflicted.

As an Ohio State fan, this bums me out. I still root for Zeke and as long as we don’t find out that he actually was guilty of hitting his girlfriend, I’ll continue to pull for him and proudly watch him as a former Buckeye tearing up the NFL. But I sure would like to see him go a while without being involved in a situation where his name is plastered all over the headlines for the wrong reasons. He’s still young and he has plenty to learn. He has a teammate like Dez Bryant he can learn a lot from about changing his image and maturing.

The future can still be bright for Ezekiel Elliott. It’s just up to him to decide what he wants his legacy to be and how he wants to be thought of.