Several debates and tweets and articles have popped up regarding the disciplinary options available to the NFL and the Eagles regarding receiver Riley Cooper.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement gives the league and the team different but potentially overlapping powers regarding fines and/or suspensions. The NFL has exclusive jurisdiction over drug violations, PEDs, and personal conduct. The organization may fine or suspend a player for conduct detrimental to the team.
In this case, the Eagles opted to fine Cooper. The NFL opted to take no action.
Commissioner Roger Goodell explained to ESPN Radio on Thursday that the league doesn’t impose punishment when the team has done so. But the league easily could have trumped the team’s discipline, if the league thought the team didn’t do enough.
More importantly, the issues of jurisdiction and fairness and severity go out the window when, as in this case, the player makes clear that he’s willing to accept the consequences of his conduct.
Sure, the NFLPA could file a grievance against the player’s wishes, but the NFLPA rarely forces the player to seek relief he doesn’t want. Last year, for example, the Steelers suspended defensive lineman Alameda Ta’amu after his DUI-related arrest. The NFLPA didn’t file a grievance alleging that the team was infringing on the powers of the league office (and it was). The player, we were told at the time, didn’t want to fight it.
As a practical matter, the Eagles, the NFL, or both could punish Cooper, and Cooper would have had to want to fight the sanction in order to prevail.
Also, despite some suggestions that the Eagles couldn’t have cut Cooper, the Eagles easily could have made the move — and it would have been hard for Cooper to prevail on a grievance. Under Paragraph 11 of the Standard Player Contract, the team may cut any player “if [he] has engaged in personal conduct reasonably judged by Club to adversely affect or reflect on Club.”
Of course, the Eagles didn’t cut Cooper because they need Cooper. If Cooper were at the bottom of the roster, chances are he already would have gotten a letter explaining that he has violated Paragraph 11 of his contract.
To summarize, the labor deal sets forth various things the league and the team can and can’t do. But if the player isn’t inclined to fight, the league and/or the team can pretty much do whatever they want.
And that’s pretty much the case in any setting. Legal and other rights get violated all the time. Unless the person affected by it has the will to take action, nothing can be done.