We’ve been arguing for weeks, maybe longer, that the NFL shouldn’t use its tremendous bargaining power to create situations in which the NFL has the power both to administer discipline and then to decide after the fact whether the NFL administered discipline properly.
While NFL Commissioner Goodell subjectively believes that his decisions reflect the best interests of the game, sometimes those decisions may be objectively unfair.
The fact that the NFL agreed to slice in half the six-game suspension imposed on former Broncos (now Ravens) defensive lineman Ryan McBean proves that the NFL isn’t infallible on matters of discipline — which proves that the best interests of the game would be enhanced via the use of a truly independent review process.
In McBean’s case, the NFL insisted that McBean should be suspended for six games because he produced what was deemed to be a non-human urine specimen during a steroids test. McBean attacked the sample-collection procedures through the established appeal process, but the NFL rejected his defense.
Via a lawsuit challenging the outcome of the in-house arbitration, McBean pointed out flaws in the sample-collection procedures, alleged lack of impartiality by the league’s hearing officer, and cited delayed issuance of the final decision, which included a not-so-subtle suggestion that the NFL didn’t want to disrupt Tebowmania by removing two key defensive players during a playoff run.
Despite the very high bar that applies when trying to overturn an arbitration award in court (after all, the courts prefer that parties agree to their own procedures for working out their differences, since that reduces caseloads and preserves judicial resources), the league opted not to fight this one to the end, as it did with the StarCaps case filed by Kevin and Pat Williams.
That’s the closest thing we’ll ever see to the NFL admitting that it was wrong in its use of the exclusive ability to reviews its own decisions. And that defect as it relates to McBean could manifest itself in other cases, such as the four pending player suspensions arising from the Saints pay-for-performance/bounty system.
The league’s willingness to compromise on McBean shows that there are indeed situations where the league is, yes, wrong. And that’s all the more reason for the league to not have the exclusive ability to make decisions and then to decide whether the decisions were decided properly.
Here’s hoping that, in the next CBA, the NFLPA insists on an independent process for all players. Here’s also hoping that, as to non-players, the NFL realizes the value of an independent review — or that someone stands up and forces the NFL to come to that conclusion.