Now that the NFL Commissioner finally has a new contract, the Commissioner can get back to the business of the NFL. And one important item of business continues to be the manner in which the NFL metes out discipline against players for off-field misconduct.
Asked by reporters on Wednesday whether the league needs to revamp its procedures for off-field discipline, Goodell didn’t answer the question (shocker). Instead, he reminded everyone, indirectly, that this is a matter for collective bargaining.
“We have discussed this with our Players’ Association,” Goodell said. “I told the ownership this earlier today. I can remember the first meeting, it was June 2012, less than a year after we completed our CBA — let’s address the way we are dealing with discipline. There are better ways to do this and we just haven’t come to an agreement on that. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of focus on that, but the reality is there are very few circumstances. They get a lot of attention, I understand that, but that is something I’m sure will come up in the context of the next CBA. We have always been willing to consider that.”
While no specific word or phrase stands out like a proverbial sore thumb in that response, the full content and context makes it clear that Goodell continues to view the process of off-field discipline as a product of the back-and-forth of union negotiations. Which means that, before the Goodell surrenders any of his current power over the process, he will want an equivalent concession from the NFLPA. Which is precisely the wrong way to handle this. (The fact that the NFL and NFLPA have been talking about this for five years underscores the reality that the NFL refuses to regard the situation as anything other than a product of the give-and-take of bargaining.)
Amid plenty of challenges to the NFL’s business, now is the time to realize that there’s a mutual benefit to changing the procedures. For years, Goodell has resisted independent review of his decisions under the conduct policy. At the same time, however, decisions of the league office made when it comes to on-field discipline are reviewed by a hearing officer who is jointly appointed and paid by the league and the union. So why not use the same procedure when it comes to off-field discipline?
Here’s why not: The league office views the entire union relationship as something the players wanted, and part of what they get when they want a union is a process that requires them to give something up to get anything they don’t currently have.
If Goodell and his top lieutenants have learned nothing else over the past five years, it’s that the current system creates a bad look for the NFL. Of course, it’s debatable that they’d even admit it’s been a bad look. Which may be the far bigger problem when it comes to the procedures of imposing discipline on players due to off-field misconduct.