Yesterday, details of a domestic abuse allegation against Ezekiel Elliott went public. Elliott is the running back from Ohio State who was just signed to the Dallas Cowboys in this year’s NFL draft. He’s also now a young man who has been accused of beating his girlfriend, Tiffany Thompson, who released these images to Instagram Friday afternoon.

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Instagram

TMZ also uncovered two police reports from Friday morning at 5:11 am and 5:18 am that didn’t result in any arrests or formal charges due to conflicting reports from the parties involved and witnesses. Because of that, Thompson was referred to the Prosecutor’s office.report 1 victim 2 victim 3

You can also listen to the audio from the second 911 call Thompson made outside of the home where Elliott was inside here.

The father of the newly drafted Pro has since released a statement declaring his son has done nothing wrong, while Elliott himself claims to have text message evidence proving he’s being set up for ending his relationship with Thompson. But in lieu of that, all we have is conjecture. And as much as we’d all like to say “we don’t have all the facts,” that doesn’t stop many of us from leaning one way or another, either with suspicion or support, with the details we have.

Suspicion was my first response, and as a woman I know I’m not supposed to think that way, let alone say it. Like rape, domestic violence is often a hard crime to prosecute, and with both forms of violence a huge factor in the lack of justice is victims’ willingness to come forward and fight. As ThinkProgress pointed out in an article about why domestic violence victims don’t testify, particularly against NFL players: “According to the Department of Justice, victims’ refusal to cooperate is ‘the prime reason prosecutors drop or dismiss domestic violence cases,’ and two separate Ohio studies found that a victim’s failure to appear in court was the primary reason for dropping charges in 70 percent of cases that were dismissed. In North Carolina, where Hardy was prosecuted, another study found that ‘victim opposition was reported as the key factor in reducing the likelihood of prosecution.’” So I understand what it means for a victim to take that brave step and actually call the cops, file a report, and, less often than should be the case, testify in court.

But there are a number of factors that color my suspicion as well, not the least of which is color –and the outcome of a similar, somewhat high-profile case that was reported this week. In December, we discussed the fallout between Complex Editor Lauren Nostro and music journalist Ernest Baker. Nostro, a white woman had accused Baker, a black man, of beating her, while he assured the public he had evidence to the contrary. This week he took to social media to detail a great deal of that evidence, not the least of which was the revelation that the case against him was dropped last month and video of Nostro admitting to hitting him at some point in their relationship.

If you have 45 minutes or so, you should read Baker’s entire timeline from July 18-19. It’s a fascinating tale with enough blame to go around on both sides. Baker may not have been an abuser of women, but cocaine appeared to be another story, while he alleges Nostro’s vice was alcohol which led her into violent fits of rage. She also admits to loving coke in this audio conversation here. But while Baker’s name may be cleared in court, public opinion likely won’t be as forgiving.

And so it’s through that lens that I, possibly unfairly, have been looking at the information we have so far on Elliott, wondering if he, too, is a victim of white women’s ability to prey on deep-rooted fears of black men as violent. I also can’t deny the curiosity of the timing — a breakup on the heels of an NFL contract — and wonder if this is the highly calculated working of a woman scorned. And then I feel guilty, because that’s the same air of doubt that’s often all that’s needed to get cases like this and of sexual assault thrown out. But then I have to wonder if I’m also being unfair to Elliott if I don’t give him the benefit of the doubt.

Here we have a 21-year-old rookie who hasn’t even stepped on professional turf yet whose reputation is already being muddied by scandal. If he brought this incident on himself, i.e. did actually abuse his ex-girlfriend, then the scrutiny is deserved as is whatever criminal consequence results. But if not, what a damning cloud to hang over his head at what should be one of the most exciting times of his career, let alone life. For the rest of his years, Elliott will have to answer to these accusations, whether they prove to be true or not, and that’s an unfortunate consequence of the human condition that can’t be fixed regardless of our justice system’s attempt to render alleged criminals innocent until proven guilty.

Although I’m working out my beliefs in my head — and somewhat on digital paper with this piece — there’s no mistaking it would behoove all of us not to rush to judgement on either side, at least in a public manner. There’s a braveness in coming forward as a domestic violence victim that shouldn’t be discouraged no matter how many women take advantage of their privilege in these cases and make false accusations. But in having that knowledge as well as an awareness of the tendency of the court of law and of public opinion to make a black man a target who’ll have to pay highly for even a hint of indiscretion, particularly against a white woman, there’s no excuse for any woman who takes advantage of those racist ideologies — scorned, broken, addicted, or otherwise — and makes a false claim. It’s because of them we even have to have discussions like this.

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