On possible conflict of interest, NFL says Tagliabue isn’t a “neutral” arbitrator

Getty Images

With the ethics rules applicable to lawyers preventing a lawyer from serving as a “neutral” arbitrator in a case involving one of the clients of the lawyer’s firm, the NFL has a fairly basic and compelling response to the potential argument that former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has a conflict of interest, based on the fact that he works for the law firm that represents the NFL in the bounty cases.

The league believes that Tagliabue isn’t a “neutral” arbitrator.

“He’s the commissioner’s designated appeals officer per the CBA process,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT via email.  “It is the system negotiated with the union for commissioner discipline.  He is appointed by the commissioner.  He is no different from any other commissioner designee to hear appeals of various disciplinary matters. Those people have included Jeff Pash, Harold Henderson, Bob Wallace and Jay Moyer, and courts have agreed that those individuals, all of whom are affiliated with the NFL, are entirely appropriate for that role.”

The difference flows from the words “neutral” and “impartial.”  The law requires the arbitrator to be impartial.  The CBA, which has been accepted by the union, allows Goodell to appoint someone who is not neutral.

None of this means a fight isn’t coming over whether Tagliabue’s relationship with Covington & Burling disqualifies him.  But the fact that other lawyers who represent the NFL have served as arbitrators in cases involving the NFL could make it considerably harder for the NFLPA to prevail on that point.

26 responses to “On possible conflict of interest, NFL says Tagliabue isn’t a “neutral” arbitrator

  1. Okay, as a Vikings fan who felt screwed by the NFC Championship, I say just let it go, dont suspend them, and move on. All these players are washed up anyway and id rather see an article or two about my Vikes incredible 5-2 start instead of 8,000 more bounty articles. Please Goodell, please Tagliabue, anyone….please….

  2. Of course Tagliabue isn’t a “neutral” arbitrator.

    He was hand picked by Roger Goodell to be the arbitrator who would oversee and uphold the decision regarding suspensions handed down by Roger Goodell.

    Just like Goodell was hand picked to be the NFL Commissioner a few years ago by Paul Tagliabue.

    No conflict of interest at all. Just one good old boy scratching the back of another good old boy who got him his job in the first place.

  3. This is all way too much for a Sunday night. I can barely see straight for christs sake.

  4. vikingsrdue….. to be the same hott mess they have always been. They are winning games against inferior teams, c’mon man! The second half of the schedule will reveal the essence of that loser franchise. 5-2 Vikings, that even sounds weird.

  5. He’s “impartial” but not “neutral”? Ummm..ok

    Dictionary definitions:

    Impartial is “not favoring one person etc more than another, e.g., an impartial judge.”

    “Neutral” is 1. “Not aligned with, supporting, or favoring either side in a war, dispute, or contest, e.g., an neutral arbitrator”

    I’ve seen absurd semantics games, but this is crazy.

  6. Unfortunately for Goodell, Tags won’t be able to help him in a court of law…….the result of which will see Goodell being forced to pay Vilma a large sum of money (not to mention a huge shot to his already shot reputation).

  7. The NFL was created by owners and is still run by the owners as a private enterprise. The players are employees. There is no fundamental or constitutional right to being employed as a NFL player.

    As the employers, the owners have established a discipline process for its employees. Just like every other employer in the country. Through its union, the players have agreed to the process.

    Consistent with every other private enterprise in this country, the NFL handles its discipline process in-house. Just as consistent, the league wants to operate its league as it sees fit.

    The owners/employers have successfully operated the NFL for decades using the very same discipline rules for their employees/players which exist now. The owners have no incentive to change their successful process for a minute number of disgruntled employees who compromise less than 1% of their workforce.

    We live in a free market society. If the players aren’t happy with their employer’s disciplinary rules, they have the absolute right to find a company they feel is more fair.

    He who pays the piper plays the tune.

  8. HAHAHA what a joke! So now people see a “conflict of interest” DERRRRR! What about Giants owner Mara holding a high position in NFL office and being a major part of stealing cap money from his division rivals this year??? Any conflict of interest in that situation? ya think?

  9. If the vacatur standard to overturn an arbitral award is “evident partiality” on the part of the arbitrator, then it seems to me the accused players may have an uphill battle should they elect to eventually challenge in federal court any ruling by Tagliabue on those grounds. Also, given that the players effectively surrendered the final say to select their arbitrator—i.e., the appeals hearing officer as per the 2011 NFL CBA, Article 46, Section 2(a), they cannot now be heard to complain.

  10. I’m so tired of Vikings fans crying about that game.

    You LOST!! Get over it. You are the reason we are in this mess. Your lying coach cried like a baby to the league because his QB got hit! Its football! Just because y’all dress in purple doesn’t mean you have to act like little girls.

  11. Tag will be impartial i think. He’s not the owners boy. Remember he wasnt the first choice. The old gaurd wanted Jim Finks to be commish. Tag took about 3-4 rounds of voting before he was chosen. I dont see him as the water carrier for the league.

  12. I guess this makes sense…IF you really think that the office managing a professional sport should not even pretend to TRY to be a little FAIR. What should fairness have to do with anything. Should the refs be fair? The players? The league? When fairness is regarded as something that is not in the best interest of “the shield” than when should it be?

  13. Oh, yeah, jr4real… An 8 million $$$ a year ‘compensation package’ from the NFL owner’s defines Tags partiality’ to me.

    He should of gone outside the box… the NLF’s box and picked someone impartial, like Judge Judy or maybe OJ’s judge. They both are ‘reeaaallll impartial’


  14. jr4real says:
    Oct 21, 2012 10:25 PM
    Tag will be impartial i think. He’s not the owners boy. Remember he wasnt the first choice. The old gaurd wanted Jim Finks to be commish. Tag took about 3-4 rounds of voting before he was chosen. I dont see him as the water carrier for the league.


    Tag’s firm represents Goodell in the Vilma defamation case. Goodell is essiantly Tag’s client.
    If Tags found against Goodell in the appeal he would be finding against his own client and further opening his client up the to Vilma action which Tags is defending Goodell from.

    How can that NOT possibly be a conflict of interest?

  15. Just ask yourself this question:

    If the ‘Bounty case’ is what the NFL has led us to believe then WHY NOT hand the decision over to a truly impartial retired federal judge. That would end those who feel the process has been a farce. There would be no argument left if a 3rd party affirms the NFL’s position.

    So, why no independent arbitrator? What does the NFL have to hide? What could they possibly lose?

    I can only think of ONE reason the NFL would want an impartial judge to make this go away forever.

  16. “[The Vikings] are winning games against inferior teams”

    They beat San Francisco who has a 5-2 record, and Arizona today who has a winning record. Even if you think those opponents aren’t worthy, the expectation for the Vikings was to maybe be 8-8 if they got some lucky wins, so I doubt you’re going to make any Vikings fans to upset if you have to resort to an arguments as absurd as the BCS itself.

  17. The NFL is looking for a winning stance and saving Goodell’s face. The only real solution is to suspend the suspensions, but impose a financial fine as a penalty. I think that’s something most of the players will live with; Vilma won’t, but the others probably would take that type of penalty and move on.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.