The uproar surrounding Ezekiel Elliott’s revolting behavior last weekend didn’t – or shouldn’t – surprise anybody who knows the first thing about the guy. Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys’ wunderkind, is only 21, but he has carried that little asterisk of worry next to his name for months.
A former girlfriend’s allegations of domestic violence – prosecutors in Ohio declined to pursue the case, but the charges made an ugly splash – set off a round of rhetorical head-shaking over whether he was headed for the cliched “troubled athlete” subcategory.
Over the weekend, Elliott doubled down on everybody’s worst expectations when he yanked down a woman’s tank top and deliberately exposed her naked breast during a booze-fueled St. Patrick’s party. He did it twice, as the woman first tried to cover herself, then slapped his hand away.
“Friends” later claimed piously that the woman was not offended, that she voluntarily stayed with the group and that she herself deliberately flashed the crowd at some point during the revelry. All possibly true and irrelevant to the ugly degradation of the moments captured on video.
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Because of his youth, I’m almost tempted to feel a little sorry for the guy. Instead, I feel sorry for his sheltering and supportive family. His parents are both college athletes who sent him to a small, nurturing private prep school and who moved to remain close to him while he attended Ohio State. He has been watched and guided by family and coaches since childhood.
His father, a onetime linebacker at the University of Missouri, fretted to ESPN in September: “My biggest worry is … I don’t believe my son knows how to navigate in life being a superstar.”
I understand any parent’s worry that what feels like unlimited funds, fame and permission might not be the best thing for your son or daughter.
What I don’t understand is the impulse to act on that euphoric sense of entitlement by deliberately degrading women.
Wanting to fly around in private jets, I guess I can see that. Or riding around with your head stuck out the moonroof of a limousine, and swilling Dom Perignon at an overpriced nightclub.
But I don’t understand the impulse to expose an unwilling woman’s body to public view. It’s reminiscent of a disturbing scrap of testimony (among the many) from the O.J. Simpson murder trial: An incident, recounted by Nicole Simpson’s sister, that Simpson once grabbed his wife’s crotch in a bar and loudly announced: “This is where babies come from and this belongs to me.”
These incidents seem linked less by an impulse toward sexual gratification than by a wheedling need to impress other men: Look what a daring bad boy I am! Look what I can get away with! Don’t you wish you were me?
The answer, spoken loudly and without hesitation, needs to be: Hell, no, I don’t wish I were you. Your behavior upsets my stomach.
I have no clue what, if any, action the foot-dragging non-disciplinarians at the NFL will do about Elliott’s behavior. If history is any guide, they won’t do very much, and it will take them a long time to do it.
More urgent, perhaps, is the need for Elliott, and men like him, to recognize their behavior as shameful. Degrading women is not a privilege to which civilized people aspire. It’s not a perk of being rich, powerful or having a superb rushing record.
It’s disgusting. And Elliott is running out of time to get the message.