Friday’s ruling in the Ray Rice appeal reveals many things about the NFL. Perhaps most importantly, it shows the value of true independence when assessing the decisions made by the league office.
In her 17-page ruling, former U.S. Judge Barbara S. Stone flatly rejected the league’s version of events regarding the information provided by Rice regarding the incident in the Atlantic City elevator. Absent genuine neutrality and impartiality, it’s difficult for a decision like that to be made.
Of course, that’s one of the big reasons why the league stubbornly refuses to concede ultimate authority over the personal conduct policy. The NFL believes it knows best in such situations; actual due process that prevents the league office from doing whatever it wants to do makes it hard for the NFL to advance its interests.
Thus, while the Rice ruling proves that independent arbitration should be used in every case, the outcome likely will make the league office even more determined to retain final say. Per a source with knowledge of the situation, the NFL Players Association currently fears that the league will unilaterally implement a new personal conduct policy over any union objections and without collective bargaining after the next ownership meetings, which will occur on or about December 10.
For now, the NFL is taking a position that reflects the significance of Friday’s events.
“Judge Jones’ ruling underscores the urgency of our work to develop and implement a clear, fair and comprehensive new personal conduct policy,” the league office said in a statement released Friday evening. “We expect this policy to be completed and announced in the weeks ahead. Our focus is on consistently enforcing an improved policy going forward.”
The eventual policy may be improved, but it still may be far from perfect. If, for example, the new procedure requires Commissioner Roger Goodell to obtain input from relevant experts but nevertheless allows him to make the decision on discipline and to retain authority over any appeal, the process technically will be improved but it will still have plenty of room for improvement.
The personal conduct policy won’t be as good as it can be until every decision becomes subject to independent arbitration. Indeed, the fear of a public rebuke for a flawed decision could be enough to get the league to make better decisions in the first place. Any other approach means that the NFL will continue to make decisions by determining the preferred outcome and then working backward to justify it.