|Roger Goodell's authority continues to be questioned, this time in a brief filed by the NFLPA. (US Presswire)|
One of the more discussed topics in the NFL remains commissioner power. It is a fascinating subject and will remain so for years. You can see how passionate this topic has become in the NFL Players Association legal brief supporting Saints players in the Bountygate case. The brief, filed this week, can be read in its entirety here.
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It's a fascinating look inside this fight and isn't shy about terming Roger Goodell as an independent arbitrator a sham. "... the record is unambiguous that the Commissioner has rendered himself evidently partial by choosing to engage in a comprehensive publicity campaign against the Players," the brief states, "making it clear that their fair treatment will be secondary to the NFL's own agenda about making a public statement against [non-existent] bounties."
So, there's that. As the Saints' case continues to wind through the civil court system, the issue of Goodell's power is discussed extensively in NFL locker rooms, among agents, teams and the NFL offices on Park Avenue. There are huge stakes in this argument that can affect play on the field.
"Players have one eye on football and one eye on what's happening with the fight against Roger," one Pro Bowl player said.
What this brief and other actions from players and the union show is that players view the court system as a counter to Goodell's authority.
If players are successful at using the courts to challenge the commissioner, it could dramatically shift the balance of power between the players and the NFL.
The NFL responded to the Saints and union filings with a response of its own. That response was just as passionate as the union's in defending Goodell's power. "The pending vacatur motions ask this Court to grant something that the NFLPA did not secure in bargaining: The appointment of someone other than the Commissioner or a hearing officer whom the Commissioner appoints (after consultation with the NFLPA Executive Director) to resolve an appeal of a conduct detrimental suspension," says the NF's brief. "That request turns the CBA (and the law) on its head."
There was also this: "Plaintiffs' selective excerpts of snippets from newspaper articles do not constitute “all of the circumstances.” When all of the circumstances are considered, it is clear that the reasonable observer would not have to conclude that, if the October suspensions are upheld in whole or in part on appeal, that the outcome is due to “bias.” That is particularly true in light of the fact that the NFLPA agreed that the Commissioner, at his discretion, would hear appeals re-garding discipline that the Commissioner had determined he should impose."
The NFL's point? Of course, it is counter to the union's, and it basically says: too bad NFL players. Too late to cry about the commish's power because you agreed to it.
One thing that needs to be mentioned: There is no question that in speaking to players, while they care about the outcome of the fight against Goodell's power, they still feel the union made the correct move in not attempting to curb the power during the lockout.
The impact of Goodell being able to apply his power unilaterally, mostly in areas of off-field discipline, or cases like Bountygate, affects only a handful of players every year. Maybe 10 to 15 at the most -- a fraction of the player base.
It would have been stupid -- beyond stupid -- to trade larger issues during negotiations to curb Goodell's power when that power affects a tiny part of the player base. That gets lost in this ongoing discussion. The union made the right move in not fighting to curb that aspect of Goodell's power and actually did curb other aspects of it.
"As they have from the beginning," the brief states, "the Players merely seek to enforce their right to defend themselves before an arbitrator who is free from evident partiality, and as part of a process that is fair."
And the fight goes on.