In an earlier item analyzing the ultimate outcome of the bounty suspensions imposed on quartet of players, we pointed out that all parties will declare victory.
The NFL already has.
Appended to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello’s stream of tweetiousness summarizing the ruling from former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is the league’s statement in response to the ruling.
“We respect Mr. Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters,” Aiello said. “This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner Goodell, two CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel, and Mr. Tagliabue as Commissioner Goodell’s designated appeals officer. The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.”
That’s factually correct, but the players had to fight and scratch and claw for due process, overcoming a flawed internal investigation effort that at times seems to be more concerned with P.R. than fairness and eventually forcing fairness only via an aggressive assault mounted by the players and the NFLPA in federal court.
So, yes, the system works. As long as the players have access to good lawyers who have the intelligence, the creativity, and the will to push back hard against the efforts of the league to do what the league wants to do.
The points contained in the league’s statement were all made at the moment Goodell levied and upheld a variety of suspensions against non-players. The last six months have been about trying to impose punishment on players who were merely doing what they were told to do and/or what they were never told by anyone they couldn’t do.
Regardless of the specific facts, this case proves that there are real limits to the otherwise seemingly unlimited power of the office of Commissioner. As a result, the victors aren’t simply the four players who won’t be suspended but all current and future players who now have further protection against unwarranted or unfair discipline from the league office.
If that’s a win for the league, we’d hate to see what a loss looks like.