For years, the NFL Players Association has lobbied for Commissioner Roger Goodell to permanently surrender his power to resolve appeals of player discipline. Last year, significant gains were made in that regard via, for example, the revised policy regarding performance-enhancing drugs.
In other areas, Goodell continues to have final say over player punishment. Most notably, he possesses that power under the Personal Conduct Policy. He also holds ultimate authority over the looming suspension of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for violation of the rules regarding the integrity of the game of football.
This time around, the Commissioner’s decision would sideline one of the league’s highest-profile players for one of the league’s highest-profile regular-season games. For that reason, the NFL Players Association hopes to find an unlikely ally in the push to nudge Goodell to designate a truly neutral party to resolve the appeal.
Per a league source, the NFLPA hopes Patriots owner Robert Kraft pushes for neutral arbitration. There’s already a sense within NFLPA leadership that Kraft wants Goodell to delegate the decision to an outside party.
It’s a sensible position for Kraft to take, as it relates to his team’s interests. A neutral arbitrator would review the proposed punishment but also would likely entertain any challenges to the underlying investigation, which from a scientific standpoint relies on the very unscientific reality that the two pressure gauges available at the AFC title game generated significantly different readings and disregards referee Walt Anderson’s “best recollection” that he used to inflate the balls before kickoff the gauge that generated halftime measurements that suggest no tampering.
But the precedent could be a dangerous one for the league. If neutral arbitration is required for Brady, why isn’t it required for every player?
Actually, neutral arbitration could be a good idea in this case because any lenience exercised by Goodell would be criticized as favoritism for one of the few owners who: (1) staunchly and publicly defended the Commissioner during the Ray Rice debacle; and (2) determines the Commissioner’s pay. But if Kraft actually wants neutral arbitration, it could mean that Goodell wants to disregard that obvious conflict of interest.
Regardless, the entire analysis tends to confirm the wisdom of the Missouri Supreme Court’s recent ruling that no Commissioner can exercise true independence when resolving disputes involving the people who employ and pay him.