At a time when many in the media think that the NFL Players Association is trying to “rewrite” the Collective Bargaining Agreement through the courts, the man who keeps beating the NFL in court in CBA cases has a different perspective.
On Friday’s PFT Live on NBC Sports Radio, I asked lawyer Jeffrey Kessler whether his 5-0 run in high-profile player suspension is the result of Kessler working legal magic or the NFL providing him with low-hanging fruit.
“I’d like to say it’s all my legal magic, but the situation is we have a league that just doesn’t want to comply with the CBA,” Kessler said. “It doesn’t want to follow the rules of arbitration when they’re arbitrating, and they really create these situations. It’s the reason why, for example, it’s so important that the players picked De Smith to be the head of the union, who’s an experienced lawyer. You could say, ‘Well, why do you need to be an experienced lawyer to be the head of the union?’ Well, that’s the only way that the union’s been able to protect the legal rights of these players. So it’s been critical to this process, but frankly if the NFL behaved like a lot of other leagues and we had a system that was fair and open in which they followed the rules they would need a lot less of my time.”
Kessler, who has been working for the union for a long time, said it hasn’t always been this way.
“This system of the Commissioner being able to arbitrate discipline, I’ll bet you it’s more than 75 years old,” Kessler said. “It long predates the union let alone the last CBA, and yet it has only become an enormous problem since I would say 2012 with Bountygate. It’s like some switch got flipped in the league office where they said, ‘Okay, let’s see how far we can push this and basically impose penalties wherever we want to without any process and let’s see what happens.’ Well, what’s happened is that the union’s had to repeatedly fight and as you mentioned we’ve had great success in protecting the players’ rights. It’s been a hand-to-hand combat that would seem not to be what you would want. From the league standpoint, from the player standpoint, there’s got to be a better way, and that’s what the union would like to see happen here.”
Whether it will happen is a different story. Literally. I’ll eventually write a different story on that.
For now, here’s the full transcript. Or you can listen to what Kessler had to say below.