SBD/June 4, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Arbitrator Denies NFLPA's Appeal Of Saints Bounty Scandal Punishments

NFL arbitrator Stephen Burbank turned aside a union appeal of Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension of four Saints players for their alleged role in the bounty scandal. The NFLPA plans to appeal the decision to a three-member appeals panel, one each from NFL, NFLPA and an independent arbitrator, as provided for under the CBA. The NFLPA contends Goodell overstepped his authority in assessing the penalties because the central issue the union maintained was an alleged “pay for performance” violation, which would dictate different penalties within the CBA. But Burbank agreed with the NFL that pay for performance, meaning bonus money paid to players for particular plays, was only one element of Goodell’s thinking. Also, conduct detrimental to the game animated his decision, Burbank said. Burbank did make an exception for Packers DT Anthony Hargrove, and asked for more information from the NFL. Burbank’s decision is only one step toward resolving the bounty scandal, which the players contend did not exist. Another arbitrator, Shayam Das, is hearing an appeal from the NFLPA over whether an onfield appeals panel instead should mete out any punishment; the union contention being the conduct is for onfield behavior. The NFLPA is alleging that the league cannot punish players for behavior predating the signing of the CBA on August 4, 2011. In this case, the appeals panel now hears the case. And each of the four players can appeal their suspension individually to Goodell, assuming his authority is upheld. That authority seemed to have caused Burbank some hesitation. “The NFLPA is understandably concerned that the commissioner’s claims of powers to discipline for conduct detrimental not be permitted to subvert protections for players won in the collective bargaining process,” Burbank wrote. He noted that during the May 30 oral hearing, an NFL lawyer’s response to the limits of the commissioner’s authority was measured. The lawyer, according to Burbank, in response to probing on the issue of the limits of the commissioner’s powers, said, “[My] own view is that … the commissioner could not discipline a player for exercising free agency rights to which the league had agreed in the [CBA].” That would seem to leave a wide area open for the commissioner to exercise his authority over player conduct.
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