So here’s what we’ve learned today: Roger Goodell still controls player punishments for conduct that happens on the field but is organized off of the field, which includes the alleged behavior of the four Saints players suspended for their roles in the team’s bounty debacle.
That’s the intentionally oversimplified effect of Special Master Stephen Burbank’s rulings earlier this morning. The deeper impact is a
comet to the center of our Earth a massive victory for the league, and especially dictator Goodell, who’s supreme reign over all player conduct has been verified and supported for all of eternity.
The grievance on Burbank’s large, mahogany table was one of the union’s attempts to strip the bountygate ruling from Goodell’s hands, or at least minimize his power. The players’ union argued that the alleged conduct and resulting punishments for Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, and Will Smith was tied more directly to the salary cap due to the use of external funds paid to players beyond their contracts during the bounty program. Had he bought this argument, the authority over the suspensions would have shifted to Burbank himself, because Goodell’s disciplinary powers don’t cover salary cap issues.
However, Burbank sided with the league, ruling that the allegations fall under the category of “conduct detrimental to the league,” and are therefore a CBA issue. More from the league’s press release:
“The System Arbitrator thus confirmed the commissioner’s authority to suspend Mr. Fujita, Mr. Smith and Mr. Vilma. He invited the commissioner to clarify the precise basis for his discipline of Mr. Hargrove who, among other things, was found to have lied to the league’s investigators and obstructed their investigation.”
Translated to English, that read “your move, NFLPA.” This is a massive win for the league that nearly cripples Vilma et al, and sets a major precedent for any similar discipline in the future. It can now be argued that any act which occurs on the field but is based in off-field monetary dealings (like, say, another bounty case) falls under Goodell’s increasingly lengthy legal arm.
Despite the unfavorable ruling, the players are still saying what they’ve said for months, namely that they haven’t seen any evidence and weren’t even given the chance to see any evidence, and therefore they can only conclude that evidence doesn’t exist.
Burbank wasn’t concerned with that, and his ruling here has no impact on Goodell’s punishments. That’s up to Goodell, and only Goodell. Burbank’s only mandate was to determine if Goodell should indeed have this matter on his own mahogany desk.
Because this is America and it’s the NFL, the union has already said they will appeal Burbank’s ruling. The structure in place for such an appeal is a three-man appeals panel featuring one member from the league, one from the union, and one neutral independent.
The next grievance ruling is on the desk of another judge, and it’s also tied to jurisdiction. Judge Shyam Das will rule on whether or not Goodell should oversee the appeals launched by all four players regarding their suspensions. Having the same man who made the punishment also rule on the appeals for said punishments seems like quite the third-world judicial process from a first class league, but here we are. The NFLPA wants the appeals to be handled by Ted Cottrell or Art Shell, two arbitrators who are supposed to oversee appeals for on-field acts under the new CBA.
That concludes today’s NFL legal bickering and boring but important information. We’ll now resume our regularly scheduled slowwww season programing featuring head coach music videos.