by Jordan Kobritz
If a contest were held to determine the most arrogant and incompetent sports organization in the country, there would be no dearth of worthy candidates, with the NCAA and the NFL topping the list. But the NFL’s recent handling of its Personal Conduct Policy stamps it as the prime contender to take home the trophy.
The NCAA’s qualifications for the dubious honor have been well documented in this space. Their insistence on operating above the law that applies to most Americans knows no bounds. The governing body was formed in 1906 to adopt uniform rules for the protection of football players who were dying at unprecedented rates on the field of play. But fealty to the almighty dollar and insistence on absolute and abusive control of student-athletes has become the primary goals at NCAA headquarters.
Of late, the NFL has taken a page out of the NCAA’s playbook. Whether it’s the concussion issue, the mishandling of Deflategate, or the Three Stooges-like handling of the league’s Personal Conduct Policy (PCP), the NFL can’t seem to get it right.
Last week U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty overturned an arbitrator’s decision to continue Commissioner Roger Goodell’s suspension of Minnesota Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson was suspended indefinitely for beating his young son with a switch. According to Judge Doty, the NFL’s handling of the case was a clear violation of the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players as well as settled law.
In order to understand Peterson’s case we must first revisit the Ray Rice case. Rice, who at the time was a running back with the Baltimore Ravens, was initially suspended for two games by the league for beating up his then girlfriend, now his wife, in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino. After video of the incident surfaced, the ensuing public outrage motivated Goodell to increase the punishment to an indefinite suspension in an effort to stem the criticism. Goodell justified his action by claiming Rice mislead him as to the severity of the elevator incident during a hearing that led to the initial punishment.
When the union appealed the second round of punishment, Goodell appointed retired Federal Judge Barbara S. Jones to hear the case. Jones wasted little time overturning the suspension, stating bluntly that Goodell acted in an arbitrary and illegal manner. Furthermore, she all but accused the commissioner of lying about what Rice had told him in the original hearing.
Between Rice’s first suspension and his second, the NFL adopted a new, more stringent PCP that imposed a minimum suspension of six games for the first violation. However, the league correctly acknowledged during Rice’s appeal that it could not retroactively apply the new PCP to Rice, whose offense was committed while the prior policy was in effect. That common sense and legally sound reasoning went AWOL when the allegations against Peterson became public. The NFL disciplined Peterson under the new policy, even though his offense, like Rice’s, had occurred under the old PCP.
When the NFLPA appealed Peterson’s punishment, Goodell assigned longtime NFL executive Harold Henderson to hear the appeal, rather than assign an independent arbitrator as the league had done in Rice’s case. Not surprisingly, Henderson sided with Goodell and affirmed Peterson’s suspension.
Undeterred, the NFLPA appealed to Judge Doty who excoriated the league for doing to Peterson what it acknowledged it could not do to Rice. Goodell argued in the appeal that the “new” policy was the same as the “old” policy, even though he publicly had stated that “I’m not satisfied with the process we went through…That’s why…we made changes to our discipline.” Sure sounds like a new policy. The NFL immediately appealed Judge Doty’s ruling, guaranteeing that the case will linger in the court system and keep Peterson in limbo indefinitely.
The appeals and litigation wouldn’t be necessary if the NFLPA had the right to participate in developing the PCP, a right their counterparts in MLB have. But baseball players and football players had different concerns in the bargaining process. And perhaps more importantly, baseball players have been fortunate enough to have great leadership on their side.
We should all agree that the behavior of Rice and Peterson is abominable. But that doesn’t justify arrogant, incompetent and illegal action by the NFL.
Jordan Kobritz is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is a Professor in the Sport Management Department at SUNY Cortland and maintains the blog: http://sportsbeyondthelines.com Jordan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.© Copyright 2015 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed