After a Friday back-and-forth that left the league office upset, to say the least, regarding the NFLPA’s position regarding the availability of information relating to the Saints’ bounty probe, the union has decided to accept the NFL’s offer to come to New York and obtain more information, according to Jim Trotter of SI.com.
Per the report, the NFLPA still may not recommend specific discipline, even if the union finds “concrete evidence” of player involvement.
That’s the right move, in our view. It’s not for the union to advise the league on discipline, given that the union will later be representing the players during their appeals. Indeed, merely making a recommendation could amount to a violation of the duty of fair representation that every union has to its members.
As to the appeal process, the question continues to be whether punishment will be meted out for on-field conduct or off-field behavior. The former would be subject to review by Art Shell or Ted Cottrell (who upheld the two-game suspension of Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh and the one-game suspension of Steelers linebacker James Harrison in 2011), the latter would be handled by the league office (which overturned a $10,000 fine imposed on Steelers safety Troy Polamalu for calling his wife from the sidelines during a game).
And while Trotter explains that “[t]he union has great concerns about the disciplinary powers of the commissioner’s office over issues such as the bounty scandal” and that “it has never made sense for cases to be appealed to the same person who handed out the initial punishment,” it’s critical to remember that the NFLPA reaffirmed these procedures when agreeing to the new, 10-year CBA in August 2011.
The current challenge for the NFLPA continues to be walking the tightrope between protecting the players who funded or received payments from the bounty fund and protecting those who were targeted by the bounty system. For now, the prudent move will be to explore whether there’s a way to pin the full blame on the coaches, but only if the evidence supports the argument that the players who participated were coerced into doing so by their coaches — and if the players will be able to testify truthfully and persuasively that the locker-room personality cult overcame their free will.
If not, the players need to do the right thing (and, from a P.R. perspective, the smart thing) and take their medicine.