Players challenge Goodell's power
Players challenge Goodell's power
May 5, 2012 12:23 am
By Barry Wilner / The Associated Press
NEW YORK -- The NFL players union has challenged commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to suspend players who participated in the New Orleans Saints' pay-for-pain scandal and wants him removed from hearing appeals.
The union filed a grievance late Thursday, one day after Goodell suspended four players who participated in bounties from 2009-11. The complaint says Goodell is prohibited from punishing players for any aspect of the case occurring before the new collective bargaining agreement was signed in August.
It argues that a CBA system arbitrator, and not Goodell, has the right to decide player punishment under such circumstances, as well as rule on any appeals.
In a document obtained by The Associated Press, the union told the league Goodell "released all players from conduct engaged in prior to execution of the CBA."
"Thus, even assuming for the sake of argument that the commissioner had the authority to punish players for conduct detrimental under the alleged facts and circumstances of this particular situation -- he does not -- he nevertheless would be prohibited from punishing NFL players for any aspect of the alleged 'pay-for-performance/bounty' conduct occurring before Aug. 4, 2011," the union said.
The league agreed not to file lawsuits against players regarding detrimental conduct that occurred before signing the new CBA in August, but the clause the union cites doesn't deal with conduct detrimental to the league that endangered player safety over three seasons.
Earlier this week, Goodell suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the 2012 season; defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, for eight games; defensive end Will Smith, for four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, for three games.
The union said the suspensions violate the league's "duty of fairness to players," and that the process "violated various procedural requirements of the collective bargaining agreement, including limits of Goodell's authority over the matter and failure to disclose sufficient evidence of the violations."
"There is an article in the CBA that the players release certain claims against the league and another that says the league releases all claims for conduct that occurred prior to the new CBA," union lawyer Jeffrey Kessler said.
Asked what conduct that covers, he responded, "Anything."
The league said its investigation showed "a significant number of players participated" in the bounty system -- by ponying up cash or collecting it -- but noted that "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level."
The league said anywhere from 22 to 27 Saints players participated.
The suspended players have not filed appeals, league spokesman Greg Aiello said Friday. The deadline is Monday, and Vilma and Smith already have said they plan to file.
Vilma tweeted Friday: "NFL needs to publicly release evidence of players' bounty involvement if it exists."
Aiello said the union is seeking immunity for the four suspended players, "a position it never advanced during the months of discussion on this matter."
The union letter said the NFL must begin proceedings before arbitrator Stephen Burbank, a University of Pennsylvania law professor, and that he "would ultimately determine whether and to what extent the players should be punished."
"We expect that the arbitrators will reject the union's efforts to protect players from accountability for prohibited and dangerous conduct directed against other players, and uphold the disciplinary process that was so carefully negotiated in the collective bargaining less than a year ago," Aiello said.
Even if the arbitrator finds that Goodell had the authority to punish the players, the union maintained that appeals for on-field behavior should be heard by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, not Goodell.
Shell and Cottrell are employed by the NFL and the NFLPA as independent hearing officers when players are fined or suspended for flagrant hits during games.
The union also urged an expedited hearing of its grievance before another arbitrator, Shyam Das, May 16.
Re: Players challenge Goodell's power
League, union at odds over Ornstein email
Posted by Mike Florio on May 10, 2012
The league’s case against the Saints arises in part from an email message from Mike Ornstein in which Ornstein purports to contribute $5,000 to a bounty on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The league’s March 21 statement regarding non-player bounty discipline characterized the email as follows: “[P]rior to the Saints’ opening game in 2011, Coach Payton received an email from a close associate that stated in part, ‘PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers [sic].’ When shown the email during the course of the investigation, Coach Payton stated that it referred to a ‘bounty’ on Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.”
Yes, it referred to a bounty on Rodgers. But now Ornstein, the NFLPA, lawyer Peter Ginsberg (who represents Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma) are taking issue with the league’s broader characterization of the email.
According to the Associated Press, Ornstein claims that the reference to Rodgers, contained in an email sent by Ornstein from prison, was part of a “running joke.” Ornstein said that the subject of bounties had been a topic of periodic kidding in the wake of the Vikings’ claim that a bounty had been placed on Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC title game.
In reality, the Ornstein email wasn’t directly sent to Payton. Instead, it came to team spokesman Greg Bensel, who then forwarded it to the coaching staff with this message: “email from Orny (he asked that I send it) the dude is in prison so I told him I would.”
“When I wrote that email, I was in jail,” Ornstein said. “How was I going to pay for it? In stamps? I’m in federal jail in Florence.”
And so, now that more details are available regarding the Ornstein email, the players’ representative have pushed back.
“Ornstein’s email is just another example of the speciousness of the quote-unquote evidence that Commissioner Goodell claims to have to support his erroneous accusations against Jonathan and the other players,” Ginsberg told the Associated Press. “As more of the evidence is revealed in the media, it is becoming more and more apparent how irresponsible the NFL’s actions have been.”
Richard Smith, hired by the NFLPA to advise players regarding the bounty investigation, also complained about the Ornstein email message. “The NFL has not provided the players with any information like this,” Smith said. “It is unfortunate that they continue to withhold evidence that can show players’ innocence. This email proves what we have feared: what they’ve been selling to the media as evidence doesn’t match up with the truth.”
Between the Anthony Hargrove declaration and the Ornstein email, it’s hard to disagree with Ginsberg and Smith. Unless and until the NFL produces raw evidence that demonstrates player involvement in a bounty program or player funding of payments made to other players for knocking opponents out of games, suspicions will remain that the NFL is embellishing the bounty evidence in order to justify hitting the Saints hard enough to deter all teams, players, and coaches from using bounties in the future.
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