When the NFL unilaterally unveiled a new personal-conduct policy in December, the NFL Players Association strenuously objected. Now, the NFLPA has begun the official process of pushing back.
Per Albert Breer of NFL Media, the union has filed a non-injury grievance challenging the league’s decision to change the rules regarding off-field misconduct without collectively bargaining those changes with the union. The NFLPA has cited 10 different ways that the new policy violates the current deal between the league and its players.
The NFL, to little surprise, dismisses the concerns as an effort to protect those who have violated the law.
“The league’s revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told Breer. “We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief.”
This isn’t about accountability. It’s about having a fair procedure, especially before a player has been determined to be legally responsible for misconduct. Placement of certain players on the Commissioner-Exempt list, which pays them but prevents them from playing, constitutes a form of discipline, no matter how the league executives who never played pro football try to couch it. Those working for the league who played football, like executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent, know that not letting a football player play football constitutes discipline, even if he’s being paid.
Under the prior policy, action typically wasn’t taken (especially for first-time offenders) until the criminal case ended. Now, the NFL intends to put certain players on the sidelines with pay — and possibly to impose a final decision even before the legal process has ended. Right or wrong in a given case, it seems that such changes require not just input from the union but consent via bargaining.
The league may be trying to have it both ways on this one, legitimizing the changes to the conduct policy by claiming that “input” was received from the union and others, but refusing to engage in the type of back-and-forth negotiations that are required by law whenever management intends to alter the rules that apply to the labor force.