How independent is the NFL’s new Disciplinary Officer?

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In 2020, the NFL and NFL Players Association changed the process under the Personal Conduct Policy for determining the punishment imposed on a player who allegedly has violated its terms. Here’s what didn’t change — the Commissioner still has final say over whatever is done, as long as the new Disciplinary Officer imposes any discipline at all on the player.

The new procedure will play out for the first time this week, with the NFL (ultimately led by the Commissioner) proposing a punishment of Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson. The Disciplinary Officer, jointly hired and paid by the league and the union, will preside over the hearing and make a decision. And if any discipline is imposed, the Commissioner will then have the power to impose the discipline that the NFL (ultimately led by the Commissioner) wanted in the first place.

The league curiously hasn’t announced the discipline it seeks, opting for a Saturday night leak instead. Thus, it won’t be quite as obvious if, for example, the league asks for an indefinite suspension of at least a year, the Disciplinary Office imposes, for example, an eight-game suspension, and the Commissioner adopts on appeal the proposal that his employees made in the first place.

Although the efforts of the Disciplinary Officer, as long as any discipline is imposed, can be disregarded by the Commissioner, the Disciplinary Officer has considerable power through the process itself. The NFLPA, as PFT reported 11 days ago, will argue that any discipline imposed on Watson must be proportional to the discipline, if any, imposed on three specific owners who either weren’t punished enough or weren’t punished at all for potential violations of the Personal Conduct Policy. The NFL will strenuously object to any such argument.

What will the Disciplinary Officer, retired federal judge Sue L. Robinson do? That will be the first indication as to whether she’s truly independent and/or whether she’ll exercise such independence.

She’s not truly independent. As usual, the real truth lurks in the fine print of the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Here’s the key language from Article 46, Section 1(e)(i) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement: “Unless the parties mutually determine otherwise, the Disciplinary Officer shall serve a minimum two-year term. Thereafter, the Disciplinary Officer may be discharged by either party at any time upon 120 days’ written notice.”

It’s entirely possible, given that more than two years have passed since the implementation of the new procedure, that Judge Robinson already is subject to discharge by either party with 120 days’ notice. If she compels the NFL to produce information regarding investigations conducted regarding or discipline imposed on Commanders owner Daniel Snyder, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and/or Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, that could be enough to get the NFL to exercise its unilateral right to fire her.

So what will she do? Will she force the league to give meaning to language in the policy that proclaims owners are held to a higher standard than players? Or will she conclude that it’s irrelevant because owners aren’t part of the bargaining unit? Her decision could go a long way toward determining whether her first case in his new role is also her last one.

25 responses to “How independent is the NFL’s new Disciplinary Officer?

  1. The NFLPA could also be upset if she doesn’t side with them, so she could be fired regardless of the decision she makes.

  2. Independent? LMFAO. Goodell will tell this “independent” disciplinary officer what the opinion is. Then the disciplinary officer with pretend he made a ruling.

  3. So she hears 1 case, rules NO SUSPENSION, not able to be appealed by the NFL, collects her last paycheck and goes for a long bike ride into her future….how does one get that gig ? Sign me up.

  4. The disciplinary officer has one power. She can decide that no penalty is warranted. If she does that, Goodell can do nothing. But if she imposes ANY penalty, then Goodell is allowed to change that penalty to anything he wants.

    So since itis likely that she will impose some penalty, Goodell will get his way, banning Watson for at least one year.

  5. Independent? That’s a joke. It’s another layer of insulation for Goodell’s incompetence…

  6. Given precedent set by the response to the owners’ behavior, there is zero basis for any further suspension. Last year’s quasi year long suspension was already overkill.

  7. >>>The NFLPA, as PFT reported 11 days ago, will argue that any discipline imposed on Watson must be proportional to the discipline, if any, imposed on three specific owners who either weren’t punished enough or weren’t punished at all for potential violations of the Personal Conduct Policy.<<<

    Isn't Watson's violation a large multiple (number of complainants/victims) of any allegations against the owners? So shouldn't his punishment be more severe?

  8. Question: Would a fully independent, outside Disciplinary Officer improve my favorite team’s Third Down percentage, of help the defense stop the run?

  9. If she’s already a lame duck why not push the league to provide information on the owners punishment or lack thereof? If she’s really independent then she needs to prove it..

  10. The NFL should be looking at each of these cases as separate incidents, since they happened at different times. The NFL should be clear to issue disciplinary action for the 20 settled cases and reserve judgement on the last 4 (and any new cases) until they are resolved.

  11. Not a shock that most people still aren’t getting this, but the NFL does NOT want its dirty laundry aired out, and that’s what will happen if Watson gets a year or an indefinite suspension. The lawsuits airing out that firsty laundry will come fast and furious.

    Behind closed doors, this is no longer about Watson. This is about everyone moving on and being able to live with the outcome.

    6-8 games.

  12. I have a feeling, when all of his legal cases have resolved – however long that will be — he will NOT be the same. This kind of scrutiny peels resilience away from a person. Being out of the NFL for a period, dealing with SERIOUS legal issues, coming back to a panicked team that is notorious for ill-gotten decisions, all this leads to is subpar performance, subpar support from fans, coaches, and teammates, and results that will make hindsight on the deal show how horrible it was to sign him.

  13. Is this the same as Ted Wells being “independent”?


    Goodell is a cheater. A proven cheater.

  14. ezpkns34 says:
    June 27, 2022 at 12:41 pm
    So does the year he took off count as time served?


    It should. Fine him one year’s salary and make him play this year for free.

  15. Well they do own the business so they can make it as independant as they please.

    If anyone doesnt like it, feel free to start up your own league and do what you want.

  16. The Browns fans got to comment and sound ignorant again today. I hope he is banned for life.

  17. Considering the “independent” Wells Report was written by a lawyer from the same firm as another attorney representing the NFL in the same case, methinks not. “Independent investigation” and the NFL do not go together.

  18. The most disappointing part of the new CBA is that the players didn’t demand radical changes to the disciplinary policy. They should have demanded a truly independent process. Lacking that, they should at least have required any discipline imposed by Goodell be directly related to the violation claimed at the outset, be supported by evidence, and be made in good faith.

  19. HagemeisterPark says:
    June 27, 2022 at 4:30 pm
    Well they do own the business so they can make it as independant as they please.

    Owning a business does not grant you carte blanche to behave however you wish. Just because you are an owner does not mean that you are free to sexually harass your employees, violate labor laws and safety regulations, etc.

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