Harold Henderson is an independent arbitrator. Unless he isn’t.
The NFL and NFLPA have disputed whether Henderson, a former NFL executive, is truly independent. While he isn’t a current league employee, he is routinely appointed by the league to handle hearings of this kind. The gig pays, it likely pays well, and he’d presumably hope to keep doing it.
As of November 2014, Henderson had handled 87 player appeals since 2008. Still, the union consistently has objected to Henderson’s appointment.
“A long-time NFL Executive and current legal consultant cannot, by definition, be a neutral arbitrator,” the union said in a statement released to PFT three years ago, in connection with the decision to appoint Henderson to handle Adrian Peterson‘s Personal Conduct Policy appeal.
Many (including some league employees) already are claiming that Henderson is independent by pointing out that he reduced Greg Hardy’s suspension from 10 games to four. But that was a grossly over-the-top penalty in light of the controlling precedent at the time — a two-game suspension for first-offense domestic violence. In coming up with 10 games, the league took Hardy’s interaction with Nicole Holder from a single evening and broke it down into four separate incidents: “First, he used physical force against her which caused her to land in a bathtub. Second, he used physical force against her which caused her to land on a futon that was covered with at least four semi-automatic rifles. Third, he used physical force against her by placing his hands around Ms. Holder’s neck and applying enough pressure to leave visible marks. And fourth, he used physical force to shove Ms. Holder against a wall in his apartment’s entry hallway.” (Obviously, these are despicable acts. But Hardy still has rights as it relates to efforts by his employer to punish him for things that happened away from the workplace.)
Though the statement announcing the Hardy suspension didn’t say it expressly, the league created the impression that the punishments were stacked based on the multiple incidents. Henderson ultimately decided to reduce the suspension to four games, without much of an explanation as to his reasoning. As PFT wrote at the time: “Henderson doesn’t know whether the NFL used the old policy (which produced a two-game suspension for first-offense domestic violence incidents) or the new policy (which moved the baseline to six), Henderson doesn’t think it matters to the resolution of Hardy’s case, and then Henderson relies on the new six-game baseline as proof that 10 games is too many, reducing it to a number below the new baseline.”
Based on existing precedent, Hardy arguably should have been suspended only two games, which was the standard penalty at the time. This time around, Henderson will be applying a policy with a standard penalty of six games. With Elliott being suspended exactly six games, it’s hard to imagine Henderson reducing it to three or four games — unless of course that’s what the NFL ultimately wants him to do.
Indeed, some believe that the league office won’t be all that upset with a reduction of the suspension, since the Commissioner obtained the appropriate P.R. cover by suspending Elliott six games. If Henderson or anyone else reduces it, no one can accuse the Commissioner or anyone employed by the league office of being soft on the issue of domestic violence.
Which, of course, overlooks entirely the question of whether Elliott actually committed domestic violence.