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Standard player contract opens up another potential avenue for legal challenge

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The legal challenge to the suspensions imposed on Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita commenced with a pair of grievances aimed at steering the appeal process away from Commissioner Roger Goodell.

It could continue in multiple ways.  One avenue comes from Paragraph 15 of the standard player contract.  (The language is the same under the 2006 and 2011 labor deals.)

Here’s what it says:  “INTEGRITY OF GAME.  Player recognizes the detriment to the League and professional football that would result from impairment of public confidence in the honest and orderly conduct of NFL games or the integrity and good character of NFL players. Player therefore acknowledges
his awareness that if he accepts a bribe or agrees to throw or fix an NFL game; fails to promptly report a bribe offer or an attempt to throw or fix an NFL game; bets on an NFL game; knowingly associates with gamblers or gambling activity; uses or provides other players with stimulants or other drugs for the purpose of attempting to enhance on-field performance; or is guilty of any other form of conduct reasonably judged by the League Commissioner to be detrimental to the League or professional football, the Commissioner will have the right, but only after giving Player the opportunity for a hearing at which he may be represented by counsel of his choice, to fine Player in a reasonable amount; to suspend Player for a period certain or indefinitely; and/or to terminate this contract.”

The four players were suspended for “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the game of professional football.”  Under Paragraph 15, suspensions may be imposed “only after giving Player the opportunity for a hearing at which he may be represented by counsel of his choice.”

The question then becomes whether the players are entitled to a hearing before, or after, the initial decision.  It’s a technical legal concept, the difference between due process before and after imposition of discipline.  But the league contending that the Commissioner has the right to review the decision that the Commissioner made, a pre-decision hearing could be far more valuable than a post-decision hearing.

It’s unknown at this point whether the players and/or the NFLPA will push this issue, arguing that Paragraph 15 was violated when Commissioner Roger Goodell imposed discipline without first conducting a full hearing.  But the argument is available to the players and the NFLPA, and let’s just say I didn’t trip across it while perusing the language of the standard player contract in my spare time.

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25 Responses to “Standard player contract opens up another potential avenue for legal challenge”
  1. truthfactory says: May 7, 2012 11:30 PM

    Didn’t you already write an article explaining that Goodell offered Vilma a hearing, then Vilma accepted the offer, then changed his mind and said he didn’t want one?

    By extending the offer, shouldn’t that satisfy the criteria that your referencing in this article??

  2. Mike Florio says: May 7, 2012 11:31 PM

    He didn’t offer a full hearing, just an opportunity to meet with Goodell. There’s a big difference.

  3. discojoe says: May 7, 2012 11:47 PM

    The league could also easily argue that Vilma waived his right to a pre-ruling hearing. Especially in Vilma’s case, where it has been widely reported (kudos to PFT) that his attorney requested a meeting, then withdrew the request.

  4. discojoe says: May 7, 2012 11:51 PM

    Redundant somewhat, my apologies. I should have been clearer. There is nothing I read in the contract language that indicates the league has to offer the hearing, only that ibis available if requested.

  5. sonnyboychris says: May 7, 2012 11:57 PM

    Hello Geniuses!!! A trip to the principals office is not the same as a hearing. Vilma didn’t waive the hearing that is mentioned in this article, it wasn’t offered.

    Get off of your knees for second and read.

  6. thepftpaperchase says: May 8, 2012 12:03 AM

    Mike: Is there a difference between a hearing and a “full” hearing? You inserted the word “full” and I didn’t notice it when you cited Paragraph 15. I assume in either case that you’d be allowed to have an attorney as representation.

  7. shzastl says: May 8, 2012 12:50 AM

    The CBA language is mostly consistent with that except Article 46 describes the hearing as an “appeal” after the Commissioner imposes the punishment, whereas the contract says the punishment will not be imposed until after “the opportunity” for a hearing. Strange that there is an apparent inconsistency since the contract is an exhibit to the CBA.

    In any event, in cases of such a conflict, the CBA language controls. Article II says: “The provisions of this Agreement supersede any conflicting provisions
    in the Settlement Agreement, NFL Player Contract …” So that argument is a loser. Moreover, the suspension in fact would not take effect (i.e. be “imposed”) until after the player has “the opportunity” for the appeal.

  8. cwwgk says: May 8, 2012 3:14 AM

    Wow. Little rusty on the principles of contract interpretation are we Mr. Florio?

  9. tomsd1 says: May 8, 2012 4:53 AM

    As one who used to practice Contract Law (for the Feds even) – you can rest assured that the trail lawyers/researchers will be pouring over every provision of the Standard Contract to try and find some challenge/loophole/argument to overturn Goodell’s decision, seek a properly noticed/full hearing, and/or further modify the process, etc etc etc.

    Now having said that – the Commish may have left himself some wiggle room with such a “harsh” (initial?) ruling and could cut it back to suspending Vilma for only half a season, whatever.

  10. besdayz says: May 8, 2012 5:15 AM

    A hearing is presumably when Vilma gets to bring his attorney.

    Goodell did not offer that.

    He just offered a meet and greet.

    Lying scumbag

  11. kokomike says: May 8, 2012 7:29 AM

    Perry Mason here. While I have represented most NFL players in courts of law, I do recognize that an NFL hearing is a kangaroo court.

  12. dae42 says: May 8, 2012 7:33 AM

    Any story that assumes Goodell wasn’t aware of these types of details and distinctions is a clueless attempt at page views…in my humble opinion. Give me a break.

  13. mancave001 says: May 8, 2012 7:49 AM

    This is stupid. Take your punishment, or appeal and then take it. PFT is starting to read like an insurance policy.

  14. sloppydogg says: May 8, 2012 8:12 AM

    Sure i’ll grant you a meeting but you will not see the evidence that i have i just want to hold you accountable for you words you speak to day and use them against you. And like Hargrove call you and tell you you can protect yourself if you change you report trust me i am the good guy here………lmao

  15. eaglebobby says: May 8, 2012 8:39 AM

    I could have sworn that in another article, and for that fact, articles written by OTHER sportswriters, all of the players involved were invited to meet the commisioner–in fact, I believe in his statement, the commissioner said they were invited and to bring legal representation with them, and they in fact, refused. So that was their chance at a hearing. Therefore, the commsiossioner suspended him.

  16. mike83ri says: May 8, 2012 8:48 AM

    besdayz says:
    May 8, 2012 5:15 AM
    A hearing is presumably when Vilma gets to bring his attorney.

    Goodell did not offer that.

    He just offered a meet and greet.

    ———————————

    That’s funny, the article I read said indicated that the meeting request came from and was granted to Vilma’s attorney. Can you cite a source that indicates the attorney was not allowed to attend?

    Didn’t think so.

  17. torridphenix says: May 8, 2012 8:49 AM

    I’m in the legal field. An “opportunity for a hearing” does not mean a full blown jury trial or anything like it. It’s simply an opportunity to be heard by whoever will be the decision maker in their case. The difference between the two a common, albeit confusing, misconception. In this case, Goodell offered each player an opportunity to be heard, they declined. Given the consequences, the court may like to see something more but generally courts are reluctant to get involved in disputes involving union bargained agreements, especially when both sides know exactly what that specific language means and how it will be interpreted. The players have been given their negotiated “due process.” They were given their opportunity for a hearing with counsel present but chose to decline. While I don’t necessarily think that is fair, it is as simple as that.

  18. meandjuliojonesdownbytheschoolyard says: May 8, 2012 8:53 AM

    They had their chance for a meeting and blew it off. This is what they get.

  19. ernie ernie says: May 8, 2012 9:34 AM

    The NFL offered all parties the opportunity to represent themselves and they were told by there union reps and lawyers to shut up and not attend just so they could challenge the ruling later.
    Bottom line, they knew they were guilty and are trying to Wiesel out of punishment through legal rangling, looking for loopholes.

  20. 4thqtrsaint says: May 8, 2012 10:25 AM

    “The Commissioner has a right to review the decision the Commissioner made”

    Is this not a stupid line?

  21. ernie ernie says: May 8, 2012 10:32 AM

    Sure i’ll grant you a meeting but you will not see the evidence that i have i just want to hold you accountable for you words you speak to day and use them against you. And like Hargrove call you and tell you you can protect yourself if you change you report trust me i am the good guy here………lmao

    ————————————————–

    What meeting. It would have been a hearing and they would be asked to testify and answer questions which all refused to do.

  22. shzastl says: May 8, 2012 1:28 PM

    They are getting a hearing. The appeal for which the players filed yesterday is listed in the CBA under the bold lettered heading “Hearings”. Article 46, Section 2.

  23. shzastl says: May 8, 2012 4:15 PM

    Two other points:

    1) the only parties to the Player Contract are the player and the team. The team is not imposing the punishment, Goodell/the league is. Since the league is not a party, they are not violating the contract.

    2) the contract also acknowledges that the CBA controls in case of conflict (para 21): “The provisions of this contract will govern the relationship between Player and Club unless there are conflicting provisions in any collective bargaining agreement in existence during the term of this contract, in which case the provisions of the collective bargaining agreement will take precedence over conflicting provisions of this contract relating to the rights or obligations of either party.”

  24. bearflagfan says: May 8, 2012 5:32 PM

    Maybe I’m missing something but it appears to me the official meeting has not taken place yet. If I were the NFL lawyers I would also argue the punishment hasn’t taken place yet. What we are informally calling an “appeal” in fact is the contract guaranteed hearing with counsel before the commissioner. That actually makes more sense than saying that the players have been punished have already had a hearing with the commissioner. It does not make sense to say you appeal before the very same entity who passed the original judgment. What I think would legally be defined as an appeal would not come until after a formal hearing with Commissioner Goddell. What’s missing is other parts of the standard contract that define the appeal process.

  25. tomsd1 says: May 8, 2012 6:15 PM

    Since the current NFL contract is less than a year old – how does anyone make the assertion that the parties know how the provisions will be interpreted?

    Secondly – reports in newspapers rarely are 100% factual.

    And third, similar to analyzing Admin Law – interpreting what is meant by particular provisions, assuming there is that some ambiguity, will many often require the parties provide information from the bargaining process to better inform the court as to what the parties collective intent was at the time the particular provisions were drafted.

    Fourth: I always laugh when attorney’s provide their opinions about what will surely happen – as nobody on this earth really knows for sure what will happen. :)

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