In connection with the Saints Bounty gate issue, the NFLPA is challenging the suspension of 4 of its member players, namely, Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fugita.
Two separate arbitration proceedings were filed by the NFLPA challenging Commissioner Goodell’s authority to punish the players.
First, the NFLPA is arguing that the NFL is prohibited from disciplining players – period. The NFLPA is saying that as part of entering into the new CBA, the NFL released all players from conduct that occurred before August 4, 2011.
Since the pay-for-performance program occurred before that date, the NFL can’t punish players.
This exclusion aside, the Union is arguing that on-field conduct is governed by a different set of rules and as a result Goodell is not the right person to hear the appeal. On-field conduct, as argued by the Union, is addressed not by the Commissioner but an arbitrator jointly appointed by the NFL and the Union. This is why the Union has requested that Shyam Das, a non-injury grievance arbitrator, hear the appeal.
So under this first part, the NFLPA is saying that the NFL was prevented from punishing the players and that Goodell should not hear the appeal.
On the second arbitration, the NFLPA is taking the position that the discipline deals with non-contract bonuses. Remember you can’t pay players outside the four corners of their contracts; if you do that constitutes a violation of the NFL By-Laws and Constitution and CBA.
The NFLPA argues that in cases on non-contract bonuses, the case should go to an arbitrator and not Goodell. So it’s being argued that Goodell didn’t have the authority to punish the players.
In response, the NFL is saying that the players are not barred from being disciplined for this type of conduct even though it occurred before August 4, 2011. The players engaged in dangerous conduct directed to other players, and is conduct which was detrimental to the integrity of the league. As a result, this matter is something Goodell could rule on.
It is difficult seeing these punishments being significantly amended – irrespective of who hears them. Intentional attempts to injure other players (and members of the same Union) will not be seen as acceptable and does not appear to be captured by any deal cut between the NFLPA and NFL regarding disciplining players for problematic conduct.