Missouri Supreme Court invalidates Commissioner as arbitrator

AP

When it comes to employment disputes involving individuals teams, the NFL traditionally stacks the deck in its favor, forcing disgruntled employees to agree to arbitration — with the Commissioner of the league presiding. Last week, the Missouri Supreme Court delivered what could become a fatal blow to the league’s obsession with allowing a non-lawyer to make legal decisions that could be influenced by business interests unrelated to what the law requires.

In a lawsuit filed more than four years ago by former Rams equipment manager Todd Hewitt, the Missouri Supreme Court invalidated the requirement of submitting all claims to arbitration resolved by the Commissioner. The Missouri Supreme Court based its conclusion in part on a fairly simply analysis of three provisions of the league’s Constitution and Bylaws.

First, the Court pointed out that Section 8.3 gives the Commissioner “full, complete, and final jurisdiction and authority to arbitrate . . . [a]ny dispute between any player, coach, and/or other employee of any member of the League and any member club or clubs.” Next, the Court pointed out that Section 8.1 requires the NFL to “select and employ a person of unquestioned integrity to serve as Commissioner of the League and shall determine the period and fix the compensation of his employment.” Then, the Court pointed out that Section 8.2 states that the “Commissioner shall have no financial interest, direct or indirect, in any professional sport.”

The provisions are clearly inconsistent; it’s impossible for the Commissioner to have “no financial interest” in “any professional sport” when he is paid by the league — and when the bulk of his compensation often comes from bonuses tied to the financial success of the league. More importantly, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that the conflicting provisions and obvious bias of the Commissioner when “required to arbitrate claims against his employers” makes the requirement that employees submit claims to arbitration resolved by the Commissioner unenforceable.

While narrow in application to the State of Missouri (which serves as the home of two NFL teams, the Rams and Chiefs), the ruling provides a blueprint for employees who hope to avoid Commissioner-resolved arbitration in the other 21 states in which the NFL does business. It also gives the NFL Players Association and the NFL Referees Association a potential hammer for challenging in court the ability of the Commissioner to continue to serve as the arbitrator over claims brought by players and game officials, respectively.

While those provisions likely will have greater teeth because they appear in Collective Bargaining Agreements, the three provisions quoted by the Missouri Supreme Court from the NFL’s Constitution and Bylaws lay the foundation for a case-by-case attack on arbitration submitted to the Commissioner based on the inherent bias of the Commissioner.

It’s an obvious problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades. At some point, the unions, the courts, and/or the NFL itself need to acknowledge that the Commissioner necessarily is incapable of being objective when resolving disputes involving the very teams that hire and pay him, and to come up with a more fair and unbiased procedure for resolving disputes.

82 responses to “Missouri Supreme Court invalidates Commissioner as arbitrator

  1. Roger Goodell needs to have his title changed to “President of the owners’ association”. A new position needs to be created which is called the NFL Commisioner who reports to and is paid by the owners’ association and the players’ association.

  2. Does one state’s ruling affect a nationwide corporation even if one of the affiliates does business in the state of Missouri? They may not have a team there much longer anyways.

  3. I don’t know if any Rams or Chiefs players have issues that will require arbitration, but if they do, the NFLPA is going to have a field day with it. (Good) I don’t think it will require 21 other lawsuits to make the needed changes happen. The owners are not going to allow Rams and Chiefs players to have one set of rules while the other thirty teams operate by another.

    Separately, the CB the Chiefs drafted in the first round is excited by the news.

  4. Doesn’t matter as there won’t be a pro football team in the state of missouri by this time next year. (meaning the Rams are moving for the slow witted PFT posters).

  5. This is just another example of why fans need to stop getting on players and starting getting on the league. Take the domestic violence issues for example. If the league actually did the right thing to begin with, there would be no drama. Of course the league simply does what they view as the most profitable. The NFL is a shoebox diorama of the United States as a whole. Profit comes before everything. Just sort out the details later….

  6. What the Missouri Supreme Court ruled is ridiculous. It’s misconstruing, or you’re misconstruing, what constitutes “financial interest.” If this article is right, the NFL cannot employ its commissioner. Let’s take the arbitration issue out of this, because it’s small potatoes to the implication this suggests. 8.1 states the league shall “select and employ…” a commissioner. 8.2 says the commissioner “shall have no financial interest…” Is that contradictory? Your article suggests it is. But common sense suggests otherwise. You can’t have a pro sports league that doesn’t pay its commissioner. The more sensible reading is that the constitution intended the commissioner to not be an owner of any team. That’s the interest in question. I haven’t read the opinion, but I just don’t see how it can be as simple as this.

  7. I read these post and for some reason people believe the rams are the only team in Missouri. How about the chiefs. It sucks to think the rams have to leave when the billionaire owner needs even more almighty dollars. Still hoping!!! He stays

  8. Pffft.. this is easy for Goodell to fix. All he has to do is give up his financial interest in the NFL….. I’m sure he’d be willing to do that, right?

  9. Wow.

    While narrow in application to the State of Missouri (which serves as the home of two NFL teams, the Rams and Chiefs), the ruling provides a blueprint for employees who hope to avoid Commissioner-resolved arbitration in the other 21 states in which the NFL does business. AND:

    It also gives the NFL Players Association and the NFL Referees Association a potential hammer for challenging in court the ability of the Commissioner to continue to serve as tphe arbitrator over claims brought by players and game officials, respectively.

    FINALLY. Been waiting for this dice the weakest-assed lawsuit since Maurice Claret…

  10. Finally someone actually read and understood the league’s Constitution and Bylaws. It will be interesting to see, not only what this leads to in the future, but if it has any affect on past arbitration adjudication by Goodell.

  11. It’s a private, no longer tax exempt institution. The government doesn’t have any right to tell it how to do business. I’m not gonna dogpile on the commissioner despite how much of a tool the guy is, this is government over reach.

  12. Missouri (misery) loves company…just not if it’s Goodell and his dictator ways. #firetheman #sotheownerswillhireanotherjustlikehim #nothingwillactuallychange

  13. In an unrelated story the league made plans to move the Rams to Los Angeles and beyond the jurisdiction of the Missouri supreme court.

  14. It really doesn’t matter who the commissioner is: people always to light the torches and fire anyone in charge.

    How can a anyone be commissioner then if all commissioners have a financial interest?

    Answer: A financial interest means that they receive a bonus or salary dependent on the sports popularity or revenue.

    If he is paid a flat sum, it means he doesn’t have a financial interest.

  15. As long as Goodell doesn’t cave to the 3% of faux-offended white-guilted people clamoring for the Redskins to change their name; he’s good in my book.

    Hint: It’s never going to change PFT.

  16. This is just another example of why fans need to stop getting on players and starting getting on the league. Take the domestic violence issues for example.

    _________________________________

    So, it’s the league’s fault and not Ray Rice’s or Greg Hardy’s. OK got it.

  17. I love the part of ” select and employ a person of unquestioned integrity” That alone gives Goodell the boot. He is a proven liar repeatedly. Playing dumb when questioned by attorneys under oath.

  18. Inexcusable that Goodell is allowed to be judge jury and executioner. First of all he’s an egomaniacal idiot. More important the owners need to take more ownership in management of the league. There should be a five man discipline committee who conducts hearings and renders decisions on player discipline. Unfortunately the Maras, Rooneys and Modells have been replaced by wealthy drones who simply want to sit on their asses and rake in television revenue while taking no initiative in maintaining their sport.

  19. While I don’t like Goodell at all and think he’s as phony as they come, I still think the NFL has to be able to run its business by disciplining players who violates its rules.
    The rules which the players, coaches, owners, and officials have to comply with should be steadfast, clear, and concise.
    Integrity is all important in sports. Without it, the field is no longer level. It’s why I am of the opinion that players who get caught cheating in any way, be it PED’s, gambling, bribing officials or anything else, need to be dealt with severely.
    I agree that it’s a joke that the Commissioner is the Arbitrator when he clearly violates the rules as explained above by working for the owners, I just hope that whomever is appointed to hear these cases understands the importance of being tough on people who break the rules.
    Baseball has seen its once sacred records be turned into a farce by steroid users, and the records mean nothing now. What a shame that is, and yet they all stood by knowing it was happening and loved every minute of it because the money kept on rolling in. And yet, players are still caught cheating. That says volumes about the attitudes of some players. They will do whatever it takes to get an advantage because of the money, and ignore the risks. It’s why they must be dealt with harshly.

  20. Somehow I see a new gravy job in the winds here…
    Chief Justice of the NFL…

    The candidates are:

    Steve Young, yes, he has a law degree!
    Barack Obama, available soon
    Connie Rice, would this involve State Dinners?
    Hillary Clinton, will need a new email account
    Chris Christie, no relocation needed, can take the tollway
    Jerry Jones, Jr., foresees no conflicts of interest
    Dan Quayle, what… spell football?
    Joe Biden, can i talk to your wife, Roger?
    Tim Tebow, cannot accept, there is only one judge..
    Don King, only in America!
    Tom Lewand, Suh was only worth 111 million, not 114…
    Jessie Jackson, is there a camera crew and travel?
    Raul Castro, introducing the Santiago Raiders
    Queen Elizabeth II, introducing the London Raiders
    Vladimir Putin, will handle all disputes discreetly, introducing the Moscow Raiders
    Nancy Grace, and a late night NFL crime show?
    Jerry Springer, Jerry, Jerry, Jerry…
    Gerardo Rivera, Prefers no cases in Baltimore
    Dr. Sanjay Gupta, How should football be played?
    Gerard Butler, Tonight we dine in hell!
    Jim Harbaugh, will rule on any 49er case for free
    Mike Ditka, anger management works wonders
    Deion Sanders, All rise for Prime Time presiding…
    Donald Trump, Roger, You’re Fired!

  21. It’s irrelevant since Missouri isn’t where the NFL is registered as a corporation. This is why all player/union disputes go to Federal court not State court.

  22. Yes! Todd Hewitt, Rams equipment manager (and his father, Don, before him) is respected by all in the NFL who know him. On the Monday following a loss at Seattle, the Super Schmuck Spagnuolo told Todd the team was “going in another direction.” He got that right! Now Todd is back in the LA Coliseum as equipment manager for the USC Trojans. And soon the LOS ANGELES Rams will be back in town.

  23. …allowing a non-lawyer to make legal decisions…

    *Now* I understand the obsession…

  24. This ruling is utter nonsense. If you read the document it is clear that the NFL did not intend that “financial” interest include a salary. This is obvious given the provision in section 8.1 which mandates that the league will set the salary of the commissioner.

    This is the perfect example of a court using twisted logic to reach a desired conclusion. This is exactly why court involvement should be minimized.

    The appellate courts long ago lost their credibility.

  25. Good luck NFL trying to get the NFLPA to agree to a “fix” in the next CBA. When it comes to integrity the man you employed as commissioner showed time and time again that he was woefully short and time and time again you backed him.

  26. What the Missouri Supreme Court ruled is ridiculous. It’s misconstruing, or you’re misconstruing, what constitutes “financial interest.” If this article is right, the NFL cannot employ its commissioner. Let’s take the arbitration issue out of this, because it’s small potatoes to the implication this suggests. 8.1 states the league shall “select and employ…” a commissioner. 8.2 says the commissioner “shall have no financial interest…” Is that contradictory? Your article suggests it is. But common sense suggests otherwise. You can’t have a pro sports league that doesn’t pay its commissioner. The more sensible reading is that the constitution intended the commissioner to not be an owner of any team. That’s the interest in question. I haven’t read the opinion, but I just don’t see how it can be as simple as this.

  27. Outstanding! (and duh)

    It took this long for someone to come to the conclusion that the guy who’s paid $44 million a year by the league might be somehow biased toward the owners?

    Regardless, professional arbitrators are not difficult to come by, so the NFL has no excuse other than wanting to maintain the upper hand in these situations. (another duh)

  28. Excellent decision and very astute posts. Goodell’s mouthing of the words “integrity of the game” was starting to stick in my craw because he is a tool of the owners, not Solomon.

    It is time for a “commissioner” that is not the owners’ boy, who is reasonably paid, and who assigns investigations to true arbitrators and not law firms that are bought and paid for just like Goodell.

    The league’s bylaws should also include language that the (new) commissioner should take into consideration the impact of decisions on all stakeholders, including the local communities and fans.

  29. As Col. Potter of M*A*S*H once said, “Absolutely fan-damn-tastic!” Hopefully this is the first step in football being rid of RG1 forever.

  30. One thing I love about playoff football (the playoffs in any sport really) is that the refs let them play. They don’t over penalize. The refs are in the background. A commissioner should take a similar stand. Goodell is way too omnipresent. The players should be the face of the league, not the commissioner.

  31. “It’s an obvious problem that has been hiding in plain sight for decades.”

    Yes, but the surpassing arrogance of Roger Goodell is what brought the issue to a head.

    Also, as far as Section 8.1 is concerned, which requires the NFL to “select and employ a person of unquestioned integrity to serve as Commissioner of the League…”, let’s just say that Roger Goodell’s integrity is far from unquestioned…

  32. Bottom line, the problem here is greed. Obviously, the owners are being driven by greed as they insist on a process that is inherently unfair and will result in unjust decisions. But, the NFLPA, as they represent the “interests” of the players, are just as driven by greed since they have accepted that unjust system in the CBA for no other reason than the owners were willing to trade off other financial interests in order to preserve their unfair, and apparently illegal, system of due process.
    In the mean time the fans of the NFL get to watch this stupid and obviously flawed system rule the day again and again to the detriment of the sport they love.

  33. Isnt it time for all the owners to quickly meet in the Bahamas and get those bylaws changed in their favor now that the playing field in arbitration has been sevely leveled.I always wondered how a commisioner working for and getting paid millions of dollars by the owners could ever rule fairly in an arbitration case with a knife to his throat held by the owners.

  34. I cannot, for the life of me, figure out why, the Authority
    of the Commissioner as Arbitrator, given the inconsistent and contrary requirements of the NFL Statutes, has not been challenged before now !How could the position of NFL Commissioner keep this under hat for decades !..NFL Politics has reared its ugly head over and over throughout the decades regardless of what has been written into the Law

  35. In other news, the NFL has decided to completely ignore the courts decision and open up their own investigation into the matter. Until said investigation is over, the Commissioner has placed himself under his Commissioner’s Exempt List, and will award himself his full pay until further notice.

  36. I have no problem with owners wanting the Commissioner they employ to decide disputes between teams and/or owners.

    But even they should understand the problems with having the Commissioner who works for them being designated as the arbiter of disputes between teams and players. This is just dumb business, although one has to wonder why the players association ever accepted such a process.

  37. getyourownname says:
    May 6, 2015 10:09 AM

    I have no problem with owners wanting the Commissioner they employ to decide disputes between teams and/or owners.

    But even they should understand the problems with having the Commissioner who works for them being designated as the arbiter of disputes between teams and players. This is just dumb business, although one has to wonder why the players association ever accepted such a process.
    __________________________________
    Because the NFLPA got their collective butts handed to them in the last negotiation. The league gave the players a few concessions that looked more important than they were. They had to give the NFLPA leadership these face-saving concessions, or they’d never have been able to face their membership and present the current CBA to them. For the most part, however, the owners got everything they wanted. Quite simply, there were too many players that would have felt the need to cave before the anti-trust case could be resolved. Typically, in a stand off like this, the guys that sign the checks are in a more advantageous position than the guys that cash the checks.

  38. Suh sign with the team who made him rich, and more rich, and richer then old dirt, I don’t blame him one penny of his contract. Chiefs? No way, to cold, besides, in Miami he can blame the sweating in the eye for stepping on a leg. Bill

  39. Does one state’s ruling affect a nationwide corporation even if one of the affiliates does business in the state of Missouri? They may not have a team there much longer anyways.
    ———————————————————
    It is called “precedent” – A court decision that is cited as an example or analogy to resolve similar questions of law in later cases.

  40. For those that say that this ruling doesn’t matter because it only applies to Missouri, you are ignoring the obvious. The fact is a State Supreme Court just acknowledged for the first time that there is a conflict of interest written into the arbitration rules of the NFL concerning employer & employees. So, just because this ruling applies only to Missouri doesn’t change the fact that every case brought against the NFL going forward, whether in State or Federal Court, will be forced to address this issue. And for those that don’t know, employment laws don’t (EVER) support a conflict of interests that gives an unfair advantage to one side or the other…which is the case here.

    In other words, it’s just a matter of time before a Federal Court agrees.

  41. Roger Goodell will claim he cannot let this ruling or any decision
    by any court deny his ability to arbitrate in the interest of precedent.
    Another reason he will lean on is that a ruling will lessen the power
    of future commisioner’s. The real reason is Roger’s ego. He just can’t help himself. He is the same guy who talks about how he has learned
    humility and 5 minutes later demeans a reporter.
    Sometimes appearance is an important issue. Obviously the employees
    and players are not comfortable with Goodell as the arbitrator and it seems apparent the fans feel it is unfair. So step aside. Appoint a person with a legal background with sound knowledge of the NFL.
    A person who doesn’t need to be out in front of camera. A person with integrity and no ego. Oh…….that’s sounds like Paul Tagliabue!
    A lawyer, familiar with the NFL …….oh wait …we didn’t like his last decision!

  42. “Next, the Court pointed out that Section 8.1 requires the NFL to “select and employ a person of unquestioned integrity to serve as Commissioner of the League…”

    The NFL is in clear violation of it’s own constitution.

  43. “…the Commissioner necessarily is incapable of being objective when resolving disputes involving the very teams that hire and pay him, and to come up with a more fair and unbiased procedure for resolving disputes.”
    ============================
    This is what every Saints fan has been thinking ever since we got railroaded in 2012

  44. @wolfman55h

    I’ll agree with you as long as you remove Art Modell from the list…You know Art, the lying, conniving former owner of the Browns who moved his team to Baltimore!

  45. But, Roger Goodell stands for honor and integrity. He tells me he is the defender of the shield. He is defending something made to be a defense! He is that strong and righteous. He only gets paid about 2 MM. the rest is bonus money. So what if that 40+ MM is dependent on how well the league does? Roger IS integrity. He will tell you that himself.

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