A common theme has emerged in recent days regarding the suspension imposed by the NFL on Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. And it goes a little something like this: “The NFLPA has no room to complain because the NFLPA gave the Commissioner the power to do whatever he wants.”
While it’s true that the NFLPA gave the Commissioner the power to determine discipline under the personal conduct policy and in turn to resolve the appeal, those powers must be exercised properly and responsibly. Failure to do so arguably has contributed to the current problems the NFL faces as a result of the Peterson case and, more importantly, the Ray Rice case.
It’s also important to consider the broader context. In 2007, the late Gene Upshaw agreed to give the Commissioner broad authority to discipline players for off-field misconduct. The league unveiled the revamped policy in connection with the suspensions of Adam Jones and the late Chris Henry.
In 2011, the NFL and NFLPA returned to the bargaining table for the negotiation of a new labor deal. The primary struggle at that point related to money. While the quality of the financial package remains the subject of periodic debate, the NFLPA also achieved unprecedented limitations on offseason workouts, training camp practices, and in-season practices.
If (and that could be a big if) the Commissioner would have traded his power over the personal conduct policy for the practice limitations, should the NFLPA have done that? Doesn’t it make far more sense to achieve protections that directly benefit all players in lieu of protections that, as a practical matter, will help only a few?
Sure, all players are subject to the arbitrary application of the personal conduct policy, where the rules are whatever the rules have to be in order to reach the predetermined outcome. But only two or three players find themselves caught in the gears of the personal conduct policy every year. Every player experiences the impact of reduced practice time and less intense practice sessions.
The next time the NFL and NFLPA try to hammer out a new labor deal, that same question will emerge. How much of the protections for the many will be sacrificed to ultimately protect a few?