NFLPA files suit against NFL on behalf of three suspended players

By Ryan Wilson | CBSSports.com
Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita have now filed a lawsuit against Roger Goodell. (Getty Images)

Less than a year ago, the new collective bargaining agreement promised "10 years of labor peace" between players and owners. In reality, that peace didn't last 10 months. The Saints bounty scandal resulted in the league handing down suspensions throughout the organization. And in the case of New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the 2012 season, it led to multiple lawsuits against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, including defamation. (On Thursday, per Andrew Brandt, Goodell filed a motion to dismiss the defamation suit because Vilma can't prove "actual malice" as required in slander and libel claims.)


Now the NFL Players Association has filed a lawsuit against the NFL on behalf of three players suspended in conjunction with the Saints bounty program, the Associated Press reports. Details:

The suit, filed last Thursday, claims that Goodell violated the CBA by showing publicly that he had determined Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita had participated in a bounty system even before serving as an arbitrator at their hearing.

The lawsuit asks a judge to set aside earlier arbitration rulings and order a new arbitrator to preside over the matter. The suit comes two days after Goodell denied appeals by four players.

The NFL's response to the NFLPA's suit: "As in the case of Mr. Vilma's lawsuit, this is an improper attempt to litigate an issue that is committed to a collectively bargained process. There is no basis for asking a federal court to put its judgment in place of the procedures agreed upon with the NFLPA in collective bargaining. These procedures have been in place, and have served the game and players well, for many decades."

Accoring to Gabe Feldman, the Director of Tulane Sports Law Program and a Professor at Tulane Law School, the suit "seeks to overturn suspensions, but doesn't ask for injunction."

In Goodell's most recent ruling to uphold the suspensions, he made it clear that the players and their attorneys sought not to prove their innocence but instead "raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore the CBA."

“Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions," Goodell said in a letter to the players. "Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process. Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,' your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested); you elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal."

The commissioner did provide the players with a chance to reduce their suspensions provided "facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion." As CBSSports.com's Michael Freeman wrote earlier this week, "There's precedent for this. Goodell reduced Ben Roethlisberger's suspension from six to four games after the Pittsburgh quarterback met with Goodell one-on-one, and Roethlisberger's actions were far more heinous."

The NFLPA, meanwhile, issued a statement Tuesday in response to Goodell's ruling and, not surprisingly, they disagreed with the commissioner's decision.

"The players are disappointed with the League's conduct during this process. We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement. Moreover, the commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator."

For now, the two sides appear headed in court.

For more NFL news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnNFL on Twitter, like us on Facebook, and subscribe to our Pick-6 Podcast and NFL newsletter. You can follow Ryan Wilson on Twitter here: @ryanwilson_07.

 
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