After the NFL imposed a four-game suspension on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, some in the media have pointed out that the Commissioner has the power to handle the appeal of Brady’s suspension only because the NFL Players Association gave him those powers in the negotiations that led to the 2011 Collective Bargaining Agreement.
But the powers at issue in this case — the ability to safeguard the integrity of the game — has been around since the very first Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NFL and the NFLPA in 1968. Which means that the first NFLPA president (John Mackey) and executive director (Ed Garvey) agreed to allow the Commissioner to impose the discipline and to designate the hearing officer (including himself) to handle any appeal regarding matters relating to conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.
Similar, then, to the Personal Conduct Policy, the Commissioner’s judge-jury-executioner power predated the 2011 negotiations. The questions four years ago were: (1) whether the Commissioner would have given up the power to impose discipline and to review the decision; and (2) whether it made sense to make a concession that would have affected all players for the sake of securing rights that, as a practical matter, impact only a handful per year.
As noted last November when the Adrian Peterson case approached full boil, the players routinely must ask themselves how much of the benefits for the many will be sacrificed to ultimately protect a few? If the NFL would ever consider giving up full control over the Personal Conduct Policy or the Article 46 powers regarding the integrity of the game, what would the union have to give him in return?
In this regard, keep in mind that the Commissioner’s powers aren’t absolute, as the NFL Players Association has demonstrated in multiple challenges to his decisions in recent years. From the Saints bounty scandal to the Ray Rice case to the Adrian Peterson case, the NFLPA has pushed back aggressively and prevailed in multiple high-profile cases.
“The NFL Commissioner does have authority granted by the CBA, but he does not have the right to make up whatever rules he wants,” the NFLPA told PFT via email on Sunday. “Whenever the Commissioner has inflated his rights in the CBA, we have always been there with the needle.”
The puns were surely intended. And the NFLPA surely intends to continue to force the NFL to make fair, impartial decisions in all cases of player discipline.