On Sunday morning, we reported that the NFLPA is plotting an attack on the appointment of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the arbitrator in the bounty appeal hearing involving Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove. The attack has been launched.
PFT has learned that the NFLPA has asked Tagliabue to address concerns regarding potential conflicts of interest. The request came in a letter sent directly to Tagliabue, with a copy sent to the NFL. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFLPA has not published the letter and has no plans to do so.
The NFLPA has not specifically asked Tagliabue to step aside, yet. But the NFLPA’s questions and other statements contained in the letter make it clear that the NFLPA wants Tagliabue to step aside. The union has asked for a response within one business day (i.e., by today), before a final decision is made on filing a formal request for recusal.
The questions, we’re told, arise from the fact that Tagliabue works for Covington & Burling, the law firm that represents the NFL in the bounty litigation. Also, and as we explained on Sunday, the NFLPA regards Tagliabue as a potential witness in the overall process, given that the NFL condoned the “Smash for Cash” programs of the 1990s, when he served as the Commissioner.
The letter was sent to Tagliabue on Monday. There have been no conference calls or meetings with Tagliabue regarding the October 30 hearing, which would possibly shed light on Tagliabue’s overall mindset. If, for example, he won’t insist on former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams or former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo testifying at the hearing, the objections would only intensify.
UPDATE 10:13 a.m. ET: The initial report from CBSSports.com indicated that the NFLPA has asked Tagliabue to recuse himself, based on potential conflicts of interest. When we confirmed the sending of a letter to Tagliabue regarding conflicts of interest, the request for recusal wasn’t specifically discussed. A source with knowledge of the letter has emphasized to PFT that no such request has been made yet, and that reports of a request for recusal are erroneous. We hope to obtain a copy of the letter soon, so that the situation can be fully clarified. We apologize for the confusion.
UPDATE 10:28 a.m. ET: After reviewing the letter, there is no specific request for recusal made. But the language of the letter is strong enough to make the NFLPA’s position clear. They want him out. Also, the request was made only on behalf of Smith, Fujita, and Hargrove. Vilma is not mentioned, because he is separately represented by Peter Ginsberg.