NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith yesterday morning sent a letter to players “exalting the recent decision to overturn suspensions" to Saints players allegedly involved in the team's bounty scandal, according to ESPN.com. Smith “credited the strength" of the CBA for the ruling. His letter read in part, "Our CBA provides careful checks and balances to ensure that player rights are protected and no one person can make impartial, biased and unfair decisions. The panel's ruling exposed the league's unfair process and false accusations" (ESPN.com, 9/9). The AP’s Brett Martel noted the ruling by a three-judge appeals panel came “just two days before the first full slate of NFL games this season,” and it is “a setback for Commissioner Roger Goodell and the league.” But while the decision “allows the players to rejoin their teams, it does not permanently void their suspensions.” NFL Senior VP/PR Greg Aiello said Goodell would "make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed" for violating the league's bounty rule. Martel noted while the panel “did not address the merits of the NFL's bounty investigation, it found that Goodell overstepped his authority in hearing the players' appeals of their punishments for participating in the Saints bounty program” (AP, 9/8).
THE RULING: In N.Y., Hank Gola noted the panel ruled that Special Master Stephen Burbank, “not Goodell, should discipline players for receiving money from a pool that paid for big plays.” The panel said that Goodell’s role “should be limited to whether he can prove the players intended to injure opponents, which would fall in the category of conduct detrimental to the game.” NFL Exec VP/Labor & General Counsel Jeff Pash in a memo sent to all 32 NFL teams after the ruling emphasized “nothing in today’s decision contradicts any of the facts found in the investigation into this matter, or absolves any player of responsibility for conduct detrimental.” Pash: “Nor does the decision in any way suggest what discipline would be appropriate for conduct that lies within the authority of the Commissioner.” Gola noted Goodell, who is “expected to reissue a decision within the next few weeks but not before [yesterday], can maintain the same penalties or reduce them based on new evidence” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 9/8). Also in N.Y., Judy Battista wrote the decision “was a small setback for Goodell by a process put in place by the league’s own collective bargaining agreement with the players, but it opens the door for the league and the players to reach a settlement that would end a contentious matter that consumed much of the off-season.” The ordeal is “probably not close to over,” as it is not clear “what kind of discipline the players would be willing to accept if a settlement were offered by the league” (N.Y. TIMES, 9/8).
WHAT'S NEXT? In New Orleans, Mike Triplett wrote the “victory was an extremely minor one -- and a temporary one.” Triplett: “Lost in all the glee that followed the players' reinstatement was the fact that the appeals panel pretty much punted the ball right back to Goodell and the NFL for what it called a ‘redetermination’ of the Saints' penalties.” There is “no reason to expect this standoff will end any time soon, or that it will ever end in the Saints' favor” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 9/8). In Atlanta, Mark Bradley wrote the ruling “wasn’t so much a vindication of the Saints as a defeat for Goodell.” Goodell is “never one to err on the side of deliberation” and he “often acts less like a commissioner than a czar.” In this case, Goodell’s “attempt to levy rough justice was an effort to be pro-active about an issue (player injuries in general, concussions in specific) that has the potential to besmirch the NFL as nothing ever has" (AJC.com, 9/7). ESPN.com’s Jeffri Chadiha wrote Goodell on Friday “received ample reason to reconsider how he's been conducting business.” The players “pulled a major upset and left Goodell looking very much like the cruel tyrant some deem him to be.” The league can “consider its own legal moves at this stage, but there's no real value in that.” It is “best to settle this matter quickly rather than risk any further embarrassment resulting from sheer pride.” It is “already fair to say this decision will have far-reaching ramifications for the NFL's player conduct policy.” The ruling “made the most powerful man in sports look weaker than ever” (ESPN.com, 9/6).
COMMISH TO DELEGATE? YAHOO SPORTS’ Jason Cole wrote Goodell “privately knows, as people around him have admitted, that he went too far in this case.” Goodell “needs to show a willingness to create a system that gives the players a real voice,” as that is the “overarching message you hear again and again from players.” An independent third party “is critical.” Cole: “Instead of trying to collect and protect his power like a squirrel with a nut, Goodell needs to let some of it go." In a situation "where evidence gathered from an internal league investigation can't be shared, have a third party review it and determine whether the commissioner is correct” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/7). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio wrote Goodell “should consider appointing as the eventual hearing officer someone other than himself, a right that he expressly possesses under the labor deal.” With the NFLPA arguing that Goodell “isn’t capable of being impartial, Goodell should exercise his authority to designate the person who will hear the appeal, and he should choose someone from the league office who has had no role in the process.” Florio: “Ideally, Goodell should agree to delegate the responsibility to Art Shell or Ted Cottrell, the two men who already have jurisdiction over on-field infractions” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 9/7).