As the saying goes, justice delayed is justice denied. In the case of the players suspended for their alleged role in the Saints bounty program, the delayed issuance of a ruling by Commissioner Roger Goodell is delaying the players’ chance to get justice of any kind.
A full 11 days after Goodell conducted a hearing at which the players’ lawyers raised procedural and jurisdictional arguments intended more for the next phase of the case than this one and offered no substantive defense of any kind, Commissioner Roger Goodell still hasn’t ruled. And there’s no reason for the ongoing delay.
In the recent New York Times item regarding NFLPA outside counsel Richard Smith’s ongoing attack on the “Bobby, give me my money” videotape, NFL senior V.P. of labor law and policy Adolpho Birch reiterated the league’s position on the evidence against the players: “The Commissioner has to look at the record he has, and the record that we have we feel very comfortable with.”
“We” is the NFL. And the NFL necessarily includes the man who had been out in front of the P.R. campaign, like New York mayor Michael Bloomberg calling in 2008 for Giants receiver Plaxico Burress to be put in the “slammer” after shooting a bullet through his leg via an unlicensed firearm. Unlike Bloomberg, Goodell also is the presiding judge.
And with the players offering no evidence of any kind to dispute the league’s much-touted “mosaic” of proof, there’s no reason to prolong the process.
So why hasn’t Goodell ruled?
It could be that he’s taking time not to make up his mind but to craft decision letters that will be hard to attack when the players inevitably file a lawsuit aimed at overturning his ruling. When the ruling comes, look for the letters to be lengthy and detailed and to address in exhaustive fashion every argument the players have raised, and maybe some they haven’t. The letters also likely will devote plenty of space to faulting the players for not cooperating with the process to which the NFLPA agreed, blaming the players for concealing from the process any evidence that supports their proclaimed innocence.
And so, unless Goodell is simply delaying his decisions to narrow the window of time the players will have to get the rulings overturned before the season begins, it’s likely that the league office is dotting every “i” and crossing every “t” multiple times over in order to best fend off what Jonathan Vilma has dubbed “Phase Two.”
Regardless, it’s no accident that 11 days have passed since the appeal hearings. Earlier this year, Goodell needed only four days in April to reject the appeals from coach Sean Payton, G.M. Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, and the Saints.
Given that Payton and company actually presented information in their defense at the hearings, it should have taken longer to sift through those appeals.
Regardless, it’s already taken too long for the league to rule on the players’ appeals. And that most likely will be another issue raised when it’s time to move on to “Phase Two.”