Many of you have raised in the wake of Friday’s ruling from an internal appeals panel vacating the player suspensions and sending the bounty cases back to square one that, when Commissioner Roger Goodell imposes discipline the second time, he must prove the existence of “intent to injure.”
At the risk of being too blunt (then again, when has that ever stopped me?), that’s just wrong.
The ruling was simple. The labor deal gives authority to multiple people to resolve multiple types of disputes. The Commissioner has the authority to discipline players for conduct detrimental to the game. The “System Arbitrator” (Stephen Burbank) has the authority to resolve issues of discipline arising from salary-cap violations. The suspensions of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove were wiped out because the initial letters from the Commissioner to the suspended players failed to make sufficiently clear the fact that the Commissioner was acting only under his authority to suspend players for conduct detrimental to the game.
And so the process begins again, with the league office fully aware of the line between the two sources of authority — and with the league more than capable of staying in the proper lane the next time around.
The proper lane relates to conduct detrimental to the game, not intent to injure. While there’s still a genuine (but largely ignored) philosophical question as to whether offering a guy a little extra money to do something he already has an incentive to do (i.e., legally hit an opponent hard enough to prevent him from continuing), the league’s policies prohibit offering cash for those kinds of actions. And the league regards it as conduct detrimental to the game.
None of this means there won’t be challenges to the suspensions. Judge Berrigan surely is watching, and the lawyers for the players undoubtedly will be looking for any holes in the league’s case that later can be exploited.
But it doesn’t mean the Commissioner must prove the existence of specific intent to injure. That wasn’t part of the equation the first time, and it’s not part of the equation this time.