Ezekiel Elliott must learn the importance of optics

Dallas Cowboys fans are still buzzing about the debut of fourth overall draft pick Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott showed everything Cowboys Nation has been yearning for; speed, elusiveness, vision, pass protection, you name it. He’s got it.

But it’s what occurred in the hours leading up to the game that spurred Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to say that Elliott’s off the field actions were “just not good.”

Elliott chose to spend his free time in Seattle visiting one of the city’s many prominent, and very legal, marijuana dispensaries. Amateur photographers and gossip sites seized on his presence in the store.

So what’s the problem? Marijuana and marijuana dispensaries are legal in Seattle, and Elliott, like many who visit the city, view the stores as tourist attractions without ever making a purchase. He didn’t break any laws or NFL guidelines.

But here’s the problem: optics matter, particularly to the league office.

Regardless of the validity of rumors swirling around him, Elliott has already faced accusations of domestic violence and a hard-partying lifestyle that is, at the very least, concerning to Cowboys brass. Laying low, off the field, would be the wise thing for Elliott to do right now. When you play in the National Football League, and more specifically for the Dallas Cowboys, following the letter of the law is often times not good enough; you have to avoid even the appearance of wrongdoing.

Former Texas Rangers Outfielder Josh Hamilton was barred by Major League Baseball from drinking alcohol. It was a standard not applied to the rest of the league, but Hamilton, who had a history of drug and alcohol abuse, had to abide by it as a condition of his reinstatement to the league.

If Hamilton had been photographed at a brewery, that would have been considered unwise. Alcohol is legal in the United States, breweries are often tourist attractions, but Hamilton, as a Major League Baseball player, was banned from consuming it. To be seen near it, we would all agree, is bad aesthetics.

The same applies to Elliott. Marijuana is legal in Seattle, dispensaries are viewed as a tourist attraction, but he’s banned from taking part as a player in the National Football League. Just the simple fact of being seen there is bad aesthetics.

The largest problem here, however, is one of maturity and defiance. Elliott had to have known the league and the Cowboys were not going to be pleased with his presence in a marijuana dispensary. He apparently didn’t care what his very powerful employer thought about it, and walked through the doors anyway.

Elliott will hopefully learn quickly, if he hasn’t already, that if he wants to play in the NFL then he must abide by what the league and the Cowboys view as gray areas. When you’re a high profile rookie playing for America’s Team, the public eye notices your every move.

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