Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has borrowed, sort of, the punch line to the old joke about a busload of lawyers at the bottom of the ocean when commenting on the decision of Commissioner Roger Goodell to hand the bounty appeal baton to former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
“It’s a good first step,” Vilma told Jeff Darlington of NFL Network, “for Paul to be the neutral arbitrator.”
The key word is neutral. If Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, and/or the NFLPA believe that Tagliabue won’t be neutral, then it will be a problem.
“We expect that [Tagliabue will] do things in a neutral capacity that will allow us to cross examine some of the witnesses,” Vilma said. “See some evidence.”
The reality is that Ginsberg and Jeffrey Kessler, the primary NFLPA outside counsel, will refrain from taking any position on Tagliabue until having a chance to hear from Tagliabue regarding his plan for the October 30 appeal hearing. If they get the sense that Tagliabue won’t be neutral, objective, and/or impartial, they’ll likely fight the appointment. If they like what they hear, they possibly will accept Tagliabue as the arbitrator.
It’s smart lawyering. Why complain without getting a chance to take Tagliabue’s temperature? If, for example, he says that key witnesses like former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo won’t be required to testify, then they’ll know to fight the appointment. If, alternatively, they get the impression based on Tagliabue’s comments that he plans to require the league to prove its case, they may overlook factors that otherwise would cause them concern.