Plenty of people have criticized the NFL Players Association for the amount of money it spends on outside legal fees. The last group that should be criticizing the NFLPA for the money it spends on outside legal fees is the group that has compelled those expenditures by repeatedly overstepping its bounds. And the last guy from the last group that should be criticizing the NFLPA for those expenditures is a former NFLPA president who once was in line to be the executive director.
But none of that has stopped NFL executive V.P. of football operations Troy Vincent from taking aim publicly at the NFLPA’s bills for outside lawyers.
“Look at the amount of money being spent on legal fees for a handful of people,” Vincent told Ashley Fox of ESPN.com. “It’s millions and millions of dollars, and we’ve got players that are hurting. We’ve got young men who don’t know how to identify a good financial adviser. Men are in transition who aren’t doing well, and yet $8-10 million a year is spent in court fees about who should make a decision on someone, who in some cases has committed a crime.
“Think about that logically. Wouldn’t it be better to spend our time and resources on the issues that are vital to our players — past, present and future — such as the players’ total wellness and growing the game together?”
But the NFL is forcing the NFLPA to spend that money, because the NFL routinely has gone too far in disciplining players — as evidenced by the ultimate outcomes in the Saints bounty scandal (where all player suspensions were overturned by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue), the Ray Rice indefinite suspension (which was overturned by a former federal judge), and the Adrian Peterson suspension (which was vacated by a federal court).
For every dollar spent by the NFLPA on lawyers, at least that same dollar (if not more) is being spent by the NFL. So couldn’t the same criticism be directed at the league for forcing litigation by not properly interpreting and applying the rules that govern the relationship between labor and management fairly and properly?
It would be different if the NFLPA were tilting at windmills. Instead, the NFLPA is hitting the bull’s-eye, far more often than not. And that’s because the NFL: (1) insists on having final say over the internal appeals process under the Personal Conduct Policy and matters regarding the integrity of the game; and (2) repeatedly exercises that power in a way that requires the union to seek relief in court.
Here’s an idea for saving money: Adopt a clean and simple internal appeals process that entails final and binding arbitration before a neutral third party in every case of player discipline. Sure, the NFL would have to sacrifice the ability to do whatever it wants to do. But the NFL has demonstrated consistently that it’s not able to do whatever it wants to do in a way that meshes with that it is legally permitted to so.
By curtailing powers that the NFL has shown an inability to responsible exercise, both sides would save millions in legal fees that could then be used, as Vincent said, “on the issues that are vital to our players — past, present and future — such as the players’ total wellness and growing the game together.”