On Friday, NFL general counsel Jeff Pash addressed a group of Associated Press sports editors regarding the still-lingering bounty scandal. Per the Associated Press, Pash criticized the union for protecting the Saints players who were involved in the bounty scandal at the expense of those who were the targets of it.
“They were protective of the players who could be disciplined in the next phase of this,” Pash said. “That was their focus, on defending or excusing the conduct of players involved in this program. That’s unfortunate; the players who could have been or even were injured are also members of the union.
“It’s their players who put the safety of other players in jeopardy.”
That’s fine, but the NFL has no legitimate reason to publicly point out the conflict of interest that arises whenever a member of a union engages in behavior that may infringe on the rights of another union member. Has the NFL ever criticized the NFLPA for defending the rights of steroids users whose juiced-up bodies put other union members at greater risk of injury? No, and the NFL shouldn’t start trying to drive a wedge within the rank and file now.
The simply reality is that the players accused of involvement in the bounty scandal have rights. The NFLPA must defend those rights. And the NFL knows this.
“Given the current dynamic, we have an obligation to ensure that players have fair due process and we protect them from the league,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told the Associated Press. “If the league was more forthcoming in the information they have related to what they are alleging [took] place, perhaps we could be in a better position to deal with this issue in a collaborative manner.”
So why is the NFL publicly twisting the NFLPA’s tail? The NFL should instead be issuing discipline. After all, it’s been seven weeks since the NFL disclosed the bounty scandal. Punishment has been meted out and the appeals have been finalized for the non-players involved. The league’s inaction as to the players coupled with gratuitous rhetoric apparently arising from the union’s justified refusal to pre-approve any discipline serves only to create the impression that the NFL realizes that, against the players, the case may not be as strong as the NFL has characterized it to be.
“I do think there will be player discipline that is appropriate based on the facts,” Pash said. “That’s important because it reinforces our shared accountability here. What our investigators uncovered is a serious violation of the rules and our player safety policies.”
Fine. Then issue the discipline. The Saints and any team that employs members of the Saints defense from 2009 through 2011 has a right to know before next week’s draft whether and to what extent those players may need to be replaced.
With each passing day without an announcement of discipline against the players, we’re becoming more inclined to believe that, as to the players, the NFL will have a hard time making stick the notion that the cartoonish rhetoric from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams actually translated into heinous actions on the field.
The NFL can commence the process of dispelling those beliefs by imposing the discipline.