NFLPA May Challenge Tagliabue's Appointment In Bounty Case, Citing Conflict In Interest
The NFLPA “might challenge former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue replacing Roger Goodell as the appeals officer in the Saints' bounties case,” according to Barry Wilner of the AP. A source said that the players' union has “concerns about ‘ethical and legal issues.’” Tagliabue is “scheduled to hear the appeals” of Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, Saints DE Will Smith, Browns LB Scott Fujita and free agent DT Anthony Hargrove on Oct. 30 after being appointed by Goodell on Friday. Tagliabue “works for the law firm that is defending the league in U.S. District Court in Louisiana in the bounties case,” and the NFLPA “believes that’s a conflict of interest.” The union also “might contend that such ‘pay-for programs’ existed when Tagliabue was commissioner, with his knowledge” (AP, 10/21). In N.Y., Judy Battista wrote Goodell’s decision to recuse himself from overseeing the appeals was an "unexpected twist to a long-running drama.” Goodell in a statement said he made the decision in order “to bring this matter to a prompt and fair conclusion.” Battista noted Goodell has “designated others to hear appeals before, but he has been the face -- and the iron fist -- of the seven-month controversy that has surrounded the bounty case.” The NFL said that Goodell “consulted with” NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith “before making the decision to let Tagliabue take over” (N.Y. TIMES, 10/20).
SURPRISING MOVE: ESPN’s John Clayton said he was “stunned” that Goodell picked Tagliabue to rule in the appeals case. When Goodell "changed his ruling the last time, he said he had the ability to appoint somebody, but I don’t think anybody anticipated it was going to be Paul Tagliabue." The move makes it clear the NFL wants the issue "moving," and by the "end of the month, they pretty much want to at least have everything heard.” By selecting Tagliabue, Goodell “is trying to move this thing along quickly” (“NFL Kickoff,” ESPN2, 10/19). The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said, “This is a major symbolic retreat. ... This is a step back from his aggressive posture from the moment we became aware of it” ("PTI," ESPN, 10/19). NFL Network's Albert Breer said, "This is a move to encourage the players to participate in the appeals process. Tagliabue is seen as a neutral arbitrator in this so the hope is that this can drive us towards a conclusion and that means the legal side of this too” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 10/19). In Boston, Greg Bedard wrote of the move, “In other words: ‘Fine, we’ll give you the neutral arbitrator that you think you’re entitled to (that’s up for debate) to stop your incessant yapping. Let’s get this over with.’” Tagliabue “has a spotless reputation for being an independent thinker.” In New Orleans, he is “almost revered,” having “played a huge role in keeping the Saints in the city after Hurricane Katrina.” Still, any decision by Tagliabue that is "less than a full vindication of the players and public shaming of Goodell will be ripped by the Players Association and taken to court”(BOSTON GLOBE, 10/21). Meanwhile, GRANTLAND.com's Bill Simmons wrote Goodell “might be wearing the ‘Most Dangerously Incompetent Commissioner in Sports’ belt.” He added, “Can you remember another commissioner having his objectivity questioned so vociferously that he had to enlist his former boss to clean up his mess? Me neither” (GRANTLAND.com, 10/19).
DO THE RIGHT THING: In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote Goodell “did the right thing,” as he has “too much invested” in the Saints bounty case. Goodell’s selection of Tagliabue “will be watched closely.” Myers: "Tagliabue may cut back the suspensions ... but I can’t see it being drastic.” If Tagliabue “rules for the Saints, the league will be humiliated.” Myers: “I think he finds a compromise” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 10/21). In New Orleans, Mike Triplett wrote bringing in Tagliabue is “the best move the NFL has made in this whole sordid saga.” A skeptic "might label this as a shrewd move by the NFL to work around the player lawsuits.” Still, it would be “hard for the players to complain about this move since it's exactly what they've been demanding -- that their appeals be heard by someone other than Goodell.” Tagliabue is a “brilliant choice for a number of reasons.” He "won't be completely unbiased," and he "obviously has the best interests of the NFL in place, above all else" (NOLA.com, 10/19).
NOT SO FAST: YAHOO SPORTS’ Dan Wetzel wrote bringing in Tagliabue “makes almost no sense for Goodell or the NFL.” If Tagliabue reverses or reduces Goodell's decisions on the suspensions, it "looks like the league needed to bring back its old, wise leader to clean up the mess of the young brash one.” If Tagliabue “just upholds Goodell's judgment, the decision will be seen as an inside job, the old boss covering for the new one." Wetzel: “Fair or not, Tagliabue will struggle to be seen as fair if he sides with the man he groomed to replace him.” Goodell and the NFL “will regret not finding a true independent mind here” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 10/19). In Seattle, Danny O’Neil wrote the '12 NFL season has "demonstrated a limit to Goodell's stubbornness.” He “showed that when the league brought back the regular referees after three weeks of increasingly problematic officiating from the replacements.” O’Neil: “Now that Goodell has given up trying to impose his interpretation of the case, it's impossible not to wonder just what took so long?” (SEATTLE TIMES, 10/21).
HELPING HOF CHANCES? Pro Football Talk's Mike Florio said Pro Football HOF voters “will be paying attention to how Tagliabue handles this unexpected final act of his career in professional football” and if it helps his HOF candidacy. Florio: “Lately, his candidacy has been sluggish to say the least. If he’s the one who provides the voice of sanity and reason and can issue a written opinion that is regarded as fair and probing and practical and impressive, he could -- he could! -- revive that chance to get into Canton” (“Pro Football Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 10/19).