The NFLPA has the NFL over a barrel. Instead of behaving the way the league possibly/probably/definitely would if the tables were turned and the NFLPA were on the ropes and seemingly trying to punch itself through, the players’ union seems to be taking the high road.
Or maybe the NFLPA is simply trying to preserve its considerable piece of the financial pie under the current labor deal.
PFT has obtained a copy of the email sent late Monday afternoon by executive director DeMaurice Smith to union leadership. The biggest development comes from the decision of the NFL to use truly neutral arbitration for the selection of an appeal officer in the Ray Rice case. And like a truly neutral arbitration process, the two sides have exchanged names of potential hearing officers, and the parties will confer in making a selection.
Once the selection is made, and if the hearing officer accepts the assignment, the process will move toward a hearing date. It’s unclear when that will happen.
It is clear that the NFLPA has decided not to push for a hearing in accordance with the strict terms of the labor deal. Under the language of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the hearing should have occurred by September 30. This more deliberate process could result in the appeal hearing happening after the Robert Mueller investigation has concluded, which will give both sides more fodder for questions to be posed to the witnesses who will testify during the Rice appeal hearing.
It’s a significant development that comes on the heels of the union securing neutral arbitration for most violations of the substance-abuse and PED policies. The dramatic reduction in Commissioner Roger Goodell’s power over these issues, and his willingness to submit the Rice appeal (during which Goodell will likely testify) to neutral arbitration, could be a sign that, in time, Goodell will yield much of his authority under the Personal Conduct Policy. Or perhaps all of it.
Smith’s email also points out that the NFLPA has been working with the league of identify experts “from a variety of backgrounds” to assist joint efforts to improve eduction, prevention, counseling, and the disciplinary process regarding domestic violence and sexual assault issues. Likewise, Smith explained that the NFLPA is communicating with league sponsors who may be concerned about recent events to make the case that the “far majority of players are exactly the type of representatives they want.”
Smith is right. Nearly all NFL players comply with the law and all relevant league policies. But the current profile of the sport results in significant attention for the small handful whose conduct besmirches the reputation of the NFL and the NFLPA. Which makes it even more important that the league have fair, consistent, and transparent practices when it comes to investigating and addressing such incidents — and that the league never bungle a case nearly as badly as the Ray Rice case was bungled.