SBD/May 4, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

NFLPA Response To Saints' Player Suspensions Could Challenge Goodell's Authority

Vilma's attorney says the one-year suspension his client received is "irrational"
When NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith and President Domonique Foxworth “met with the entire Saints team in New Orleans” Thursday, it became clear their attempt to overturn the player suspensions “could go much further, raising questions about the broad power Commissioner Roger Goodell has to decide discipline and then hear appeals,” according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. Saints LB Jonathan Vilma’s lawyer Peter Ginsberg said that his client “would combat the allegations against him, calling the one-year suspension Vilma received from Goodell ‘perhaps irrational.’” The players have “until the close of business Monday to appeal their suspensions to the league, but there seems little doubt that Vilma, at least, will also take his case to court.” Ginsberg said, “The commissioner has designated himself as high-holy executioner. There is something inherently inequitable about that and fundamentally flawed, as there is about his entire investigation.” Battista notes Goodell’s authority to oversee discipline for off-the-field violations “is granted to him by the collective bargaining agreement.” The union “had hoped to establish a jointly appointed panel to oversee off-the-field discipline, which is also the case with the discipline process for on-field behavior.” But owners “resisted, and the union gave in.” Three sports law experts said that the players “could argue in court that Goodell exceeded the scope of his authority or acted capriciously and arbitrarily in deciding the penalties.” But they added that “that is a high standard to meet … because courts have typically given deference to the commissioner’s authority to impose discipline in cases that he believes involve the best interests of the game and in which the only appeal is to him.” However if the players “seek and are granted an injunction, it could stall the start of the suspensions.” The NFL has “sought to minimize concerns about the fairness of its investigation” by announcing that former U.S. prosecutor Mary Jo White “was brought in last December to offer the league an analysis of its evidence and its process in the investigation” (N.Y. TIMES, 5/4).

POWER STRUGGLE
: In Pittsburgh, Ron Cook writes one thing just about “everybody in the NFLPA agrees on is that Goodell has too much power with league discipline.” Cook: “Here's the thing, though: The players allowed Goodell to keep his power when they did the new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the NFL last summer. Only the Steelers can complain about him without being hypocritical. They were the only team to vote against the CBA, in large part because the players felt Goodell had too much say, not just in handing out discipline, but in the appeal process” (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 5/4). ESPN.com’s Andrew Brandt wrote the relationship between the league and the NFLPA “is still fractured.” The “lack of coordination and communication between the two sides here is a microcosm of the mistrust that did not subside with the new CBA and has continued through the HGH testing issue as well.” Goodell’s power “appears to be stronger than ever regarding player conduct.” The NFLPA had “ample opportunity to address the fact that the commissioner had power to act as both judge and jury about such discipline” (ESPN.com, 5/3). YAHOO SPORTS’ Michael Silver writes, “Unless and until the NFL produces unassailable evidence that these men actively participated in a pay-for-injure operation that caused tangible consequences to Saints opponents … I'll be somewhat skeptical about the depth of their involvement.” Saints LB Scott Shanle on Wednesday said, “If you have actual evidence of money changing hands and guys actually getting injured -- if that exists -- then all the suspensions are justified." He added, "I think they have nothing to show. If you have evidence to show, at this point, wouldn't you show it? I don't think they have anything" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 5/4).
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