NFL not required to prove “intent to injure” when suspension process re-starts

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Many of you have raised in the wake of Friday’s ruling from an internal appeals panel vacating the player suspensions and sending the bounty cases back to square one that, when Commissioner Roger Goodell imposes discipline the second time, he must prove the existence of “intent to injure.”

At the risk of being too blunt (then again, when has that ever stopped me?), that’s just wrong.

The ruling was simple.  The labor deal gives authority to multiple people to resolve multiple types of disputes.  The Commissioner has the authority to discipline players for conduct detrimental to the game.  The “System Arbitrator” (Stephen Burbank) has the authority to resolve issues of discipline arising from salary-cap violations.  The suspensions of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove were wiped out because the initial letters from the Commissioner to the suspended players failed to make sufficiently clear the fact that the Commissioner was acting only under his authority to suspend players for conduct detrimental to the game.

And so the process begins again, with the league office fully aware of the line between the two sources of authority — and with the league more than capable of staying in the proper lane the next time around.

The proper lane relates to conduct detrimental to the game, not intent to injure.  While there’s still a genuine (but largely ignored) philosophical question as to whether offering a guy a little extra money to do something he already has an incentive to do (i.e., legally hit an opponent hard enough to prevent him from continuing), the league’s policies prohibit offering cash for those kinds of actions.  And the league regards it as conduct detrimental to the game.

None of this means there won’t be challenges to the suspensions.  Judge Berrigan surely is watching, and the lawyers for the players undoubtedly will be looking for any holes in the league’s case that later can be exploited.

But it doesn’t mean the Commissioner must prove the existence of specific intent to injure.  That wasn’t part of the equation the first time, and it’s not part of the equation this time.

36 responses to “NFL not required to prove “intent to injure” when suspension process re-starts

  1. Thank you.

    Seems very few people realize that this whole this wasn’t a “win” for the players… it could possibly make things even harder for them.

    The whole thing was based on clearing up a technicality, the players aren’t even close to being out of the woods yet.

    I could even envision Vilma’s suspension if reintstated as it stands lasting into next year now, since he’s going to be available to play at least one game this year.

  2. This is just a hiccup, unfortunately. Goodell doesn’t have to prove anything, and everything he’s put out there has been shot down anyway. He can issue punishments based on what he wants the outcome to be without worrying about what actually happened. The players signed the CBA, however, and will have to live with Goodell’s lack of honesty.
    Multiple confessions to a paltry pay-for-performance program and 50,000 pages of evidence and they have nothing of substance to show a pay-to-injure program was in place.

  3. Without intent to injure, it is significantly more difficult for them to put the payments into the “detrimental to the game” basket, when there’s already a basket regarding payment to players, which resides with Burbank. Extremely difficult.

  4. I honestly believe the NFL has evidence that the Saints, at least at times, received or at least were offered money by taking an opponent out of the game with a legal hit.

    Some may say this isn’t enough for the punishment but I do believe it is (potentially a halved suspension for each if they’ll actually not be stubborn and settle).

    Another matter is what appeared to be blatant illegal hits against Bret Favre in the infamous NFCC game. I’m not making a solid accusation and there may or may not be evidence (we still don’t know who or whom told of Vilma’s apparent bounty) but that’s crossing into a completely different level than the already established intent to injure claims which I believe there is real evidence of.

  5. It’s a good thing Rodger Goodell rules weren’t around when the league was formed a lot of the old time hall of famers wouldn’t have made it! Instead of being number 1 sport in America, it would have been be ranked somewhere with women’s fast pitch softball!!!! LOL!!!!!!

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Finally someone who understands the ruling and why it is utterly stupid for the players to be celebrating like they are.

    This ruling basically says that there was a clerical error in the way the suspensions were written. It is a lot like if the bank put an extra 0 on your pay check when you deposited it. You can celebrate being rich and make a tool out of yourself, but you know eventually they will correct the error and you will be no better off than you were before. In the player’s case… they could be worse off.

  7. I really wish this whole thing could be cleared up quickly. It’s very distracting from enjoying the season of football. No one, except the parties involved (on both sides) know exactly what’s going on. We can speculate and spew all kinds of opinions. If the players are guilty, I sincerely hope they are punished to the fullest extent they can be. If they are innocent, I hope they are fully vindicated. That being said, I wish all 32 teams the best of luck this year! Play safe and play well!

  8. So instead of paying their attorneys to figure out the rules and the process of how this works and how to accomplish a legal victory, the NFL instead let the courts do all the work and research for them to explain how to handle this case. I guess that probably results in slightly less billable hours. The NFL is really smart.

  9. Any idea of the time frame for a decision for Goodell? it would be funny and completely appropriate if he were to reinstate the suspensions today. After all, all he has to do is write a new letter and have the lawyers review it to be sure it complies with the court order. That could be done in an hour if he really wanted to.

  10. Problem is many have admitted to pay for big hits. Goodell even stated that fact in his interview with Adam Schein & Jim Miller prior to the Nfl draft. You can google the interview.

  11. The reason this is any sort of victory for the players is all about appearances. And given how the NFL has controlled this story, those appearances are pretty important.

    1) This gave the appearance of a shot to Goodell’s authority. He looked wrong, or overly harsh. Sure, he’s going to correct that by re-issuing his original punishment. But just like his initial denouncement of the players, the perception that he was wrong is now out there.

    2) Based on the perception above, he is going to appear unfair to many more when he “redetermines.” For the first time, several national NFL media figures not named Mike Florio called on Goodell to either end this fairly with the players or commit to changing his process in the future. He will do neither. And these men who faithfully reported his account of events throughout this process will finally see that he has no intention of a fair resolution, but a show of unmitigated power in the media glow of the concussion accusations.

  12. Folks, you’re not really grasping the situation.

    If there is no intent to injure, then all that happened was the players were given more financial incentive for their play that was off the books.

    When the CBA calls for salary cap violations to be with the special arbitrator, it will be very difficult for Goodell to make a successful legal argument that a salary violation can be punished under both the special arbitrator and as “conduct detrimental to the game”. The CBA is clear in assigning violations to do with salary to someone other than Goodell. It’s one of the (apparently) very few powers specifically not given to Goodell.

    It will be relatively easy for the players’ lawyers to argue in court that this issue has to be handled by Burbank and the current suspensions lifted, pending his response, because they can’t be punished twice for the same violation.

  13. I just love all the posters on here who didn’t have a clue about this until they read this article. Now it’s “Thank you! Finally! See, these saints fans don’t know what they’re talking about!” yada, yada. If you didn’t have Florio walking you through this legalese/cba rules, you wouldn’t know jack either. So stop trying to sound smart and just admit you’re jealous your team isn’t as good as the Saints.

  14. I think I finally get it. Publicity….

    There is no such thing as bad publicity when it comes to the NFL. Players cheat, lie, steal, and even rape or murder and we continue to watch the game. Goodell has managed to keep the NFL in the papers and on tv ALL year long, tons of free publicity. Not bad for a unhonest hides behind the “Shield” scum bag. I imagine, he will run for president when he finally gets ousted.

  15. Gotta love all the good little Germans that support arbitrary punishment without any proof. And we’ve not seen a shred of proof. Hope the same thing happens to you guys at your place of business. I’d bet you’d be pissing and moaning too. Just ignore that smell coming in over the trees, your Fuhrer says everything is on the up and up. Lemmings.

  16. There doesn’t need to be an intent to injure. Being paid to make a hit is considered conduct detrimental to the game. The problem was that the writeup combined the conduct issue with the salary cap issue. They simply have to remove any mention of salary cap and reinstate the suspensions. It doesn’t matter if there was an intent to injure. Just that there was a pool of money which encouraged players to make certain plays. That is all.

  17. If there was no intent to injure, how can it be “conduct detrimental” since players are doing what they are already paid by the team to do…and that is to hit the opposing player as hard as they can. Seems the NFL and Goodell will have an extremely difficult task in justifying any re-suspensions without showing an intent to injure.

  18. Being paid to make a hit is considered conduct detrimental to the game.


    Defensive players are already paid to make hits. It’s called a Player Contract. Know what else? There are performance incentive clauses in these contracts for defensive players to do just that. In case you forgot, we’re talking about football, not badminton. Laying hard hits on offensive players IS the name of the game.

  19. Roger Goodell will re issue suspensions after week 1 and couldn’t make this issue stick for 5 long months is really pathetic..He is a stone cold moron who can’t put himself in players shoes and he wants to ruin the players careers over his so-called political agenda of player safety. He will carry this bounty crap well into the season…Goodell has a personal issue with Saints, was fined 500k, lost draft picks, suspended coaches and GM=death penalty..patriots was fined for spygate and lost a draft pick, but no suspensions from coaches and players…yes, Goodell is a biased commissioner and this entire sham will be carried over into season is ridiculous…someone needs to suspend Goodell because he is out of control acting like a child cause he didn’t get his way with the players, but I’m waiting on his loophole explainations for his re issued suspensions after week 1

  20. For the do-over, Goodell now has a preview of what will happen when he makes his move. Before, his “evidence” gradually began to be questioned and disputed for validity, leading to court challenges. He does not want to go to court, because it will likely prove that his main “witness” later recanted his claims, which he kept a secret from Vilma and his lawyer. I’m not in favor of punishing innocent people just to send a message to others. That message has been sent now, whether or not the Saints had been any more guilty than any other team. I no longer trust anything Goodell says, because he has already lied about his “clear evidence”. He is by far more detrimental to the game than the Saints.

  21. The appeals panel specifically said:

    “In our view, the alleged bounty program was both an undisclosed agreement to provide compensation to players and an agreement to cause, or attemp to cause injury to opposing players. Therefore, the System Arbitrator would have exclusive jurisdiction to impose penalties for undisclosed compensation terms of the bounty program. And the Commissioner woul have exclusive jurisdiction to impose penalties for the players’ agreement to seek to injure opposing players.”

    The problem with your thought process is the league states in the “League Policies” that rewards for pay for interceptions could be considered “conduct detremental” as could a QB giving watches to an OL during the season. This hasn’t been argued and I’m sure the CBA language would trump this very very broad document.

  22. Mike, I believe you are incorrect.

    The appeal panel has made it clear that if the “pay for performance” program did not have a specific “intent to injure” component to it, then it is a salary cap violation and nothing more. If it is a salary cap violation, it is something that Goodell does not have the authority to suspend players for. he just does not have that power under the CBA. It cannot be a salary cap violation and also “conduct detrimental” that is an argument that cannot be made with a straight face. Goodell can only suspend players for the so-called “bounty” program if Goodell finds a specific “intent to injure” component to the program, and then any suspension he hands down has to then go to an appeals board that is not just Roger Goodell. If Goodell tries to use the conduct detrimental” language to suspend for a salary cap violation / pay for performance program he will be slapped down in court so fast it will make his head spin. He cannot do it, it is beyond his authority in the CBA.

    Goodell is in a box now. He can fine players under the CBA, but he cannot suspend them without a specific intent to injure, because the power to suspend for a salary cap violation / “pay for performance program” is something that is specifically not within his powers and players cannot be suspended for salary cap violations under the CBA.

  23. Not so fast, Florio.

    You state:

    the league’s policies prohibit offering cash for those kinds of actions. And the league regards it as conduct detrimental to the game.

    If salary cap violations are considered “conduct detrimental”, then Goodell needs to suspend Jerry Jones, Jason Garret, Dan Snyder, Mike Shanahan, and others for 1 year for their salary cap violations too.

    If it is because they got some extra cash for hitting someone, well, that’s what football player who play defense do: they get paid for hitting others as hard as they can. That’s what they all wear helmets.

    And Goodell was VERY clear at the beginning of his very public smear campaign this was about intent to injure.

  24. At the risk of sounding blunt myself, Voldemort, your characterization of the posters’ reaction to the decision is, itself, wrong.

    Or at least over-simplistic. Definitely incomplete.

    There might be a subset of posters/readers who believe that Goodell’s only recourse lies in the “intent to injure.” But not all of the responses who are critical of Goodell are of the mind that he must substantiate the pay-to-injure.

    Let me state it this way: no matter *what* Goodell claims as the basis for the suspensions, he will have the same problem as he did before… namely that the evidence he released is insufficient to substantiate that claim. Whatever he claims, he’ll have to substantiate it, which means he’s likely going to have to release more of the supposed 50,000 pages of evidence.

    In the universe where you reserve judgment until you have evidence (and also the right to come down on the players at a later time when that evidence might ever be revealed), it is still possible to come down on the NFL and Goodell *now* for expecting to shape public opinion (basically expecting us to all form a judgment) in a derth of any evidence.

    So while you are correct that Goodell doesn’t have to pursue the intent-to-injure angle, that is an over-simplification of the reaction to the appeal decision. Goodell *still* has problems.

  25. ***Mr. Wright 212 says:
    Sep 8, 2012 2:28 PM
    Saints fans go right back into hiding.***

    No way, we’ve been asking for the truth since day one, and w’ll keep waiting for it and supporting our guys until Goodell show us that they are guilty, if he can..

  26. Punish today or tomorrow they showed flaws in this bounty Incident on Goodevil part, so do we believe there might be more room for error? At some point these players could be innocent an if the case is ever proven will you haters apologize, no I don’t think so but one way or another we will see.

  27. While I strongly believe they ran a bounty program, there’s solid evidence to at least prove a pay-for-performance program. So either way, they’re getting suspended.

  28. If the NFL does not have to prove intent to injure, then what what would be the difference between their case and any other player who receives a bonus for sacking the QB?

  29. I wish people would stop referring to what the Saints did as ‘legal hits’.

    They were NOT legal, clean hits.

    For example in the 2009 NFC title game they blasted Brett Favre a very long time AFTER he handed off the football on a running play. I’ve never seen that type of dirty hit even at the high school level. They followed it up with a number of very late hits, and the completely illegal ‘high-low’ hit that broke Favre’s ankle. They were paid to do that…

    Which means they were paid to deliver dirty and illegal hits with the intent to injure.

  30. This is total BS! Roger Goodell is the one that should be facing suspension for conduct detrimental to the game!!! This witch hunt he is on is all about a power trip! Multiple players and teams have admitted to this practice of putting money in the pot for plays. RG is just on such an who trip he can’t let it go! THE NFLPA NEEDS TO HAVE A RECALL! lol

  31. znorseman, then I guess you didn’t watch the AFC Championship three hours earlier, because the Colts did the same thing to Mark Sanchez.

    Except in this case, Mark Sanchez had a normal hand-off. Brett Favre’s was a roll-out. Also, at the exact moment McCray hit him, Favre was in a direct line between McCray and the ball carrier. Favre was in essence a blocker.

  32. The thing a lot of folks are missing is this is America, with a legal system that allows you to confront your accusers in a court of law, and to examine evidence brought against you. On this point alone, tyrant godell has failed miserably, and continues to try and force his will on players.
    If he has already anounced his judgement and punishment, how in the world do you get a fair hearing?

    This ia not 16th century England, where the supposed royals have supreme authority over common folks.!!!!!!

    Its time for godell to put up, or shut up. But since he apparently lacks the integrity, that he expects other to exhibit, this fight will continue.
    If he doesn’t have proof, he should not win, so please quit reading your crystal balls.

  33. All they have to do is go back and look at how they intentionally rolled up on Favre’s ankles well after he handed off or passed the ball. With the admissions on record, that’s proof enough. Not to mention the head hunting against Steve Smith when they played CAR.

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