Bounty case: Next stop a courtroom?*
July, 3, 2012
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
And here come the lawyers.
That's my guess, anyway, now that NFL commissioner has upheld the eight-game suspension of Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove and three other players in the New Orleans Saints bounty case. Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma is already pursuing his legal options, and it wouldn't be surprising if Hargrove joined Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and/or Saints defensive end Will Smith in considering legal alternatives as well to reverse the suspensions.
I don't think any final decisions about a lawsuit have been made. The NFL Players Association said in a statement that it would consider "all options." But if you look at excerpts of Goodell's appeals letter to the players, you can see the beginnings of a legal strategy on both sides.
*UPDATE: ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Hargrove, Fujita and Smith plan to file a temporary restraining order next week to have their suspensions lifted, presumably while further legal action takes place. All three players are eligible to participate in training camp and preseason games. Their suspensions aren't scheduled to begin until Week 1 of the regular season.
Goodell noted that none of the players mounted a defense in the appeals process. No one called a witness or testified or asked investigators a question during the hearing, according to Goodell. If any player reconsiders that approach, Goodell said, he would meet with them and consider changes if new facts are brought forth. That falls in line with the league's position that everything within the bounty investigation falls under the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and is not for a court to decide.
The players, however, were in a tough position in the appeals process. If they defended themselves, they would have essentially been acknowledging Goodell's right to judge them in a matter they felt he was unlikely to change his mind on. While counterintuitive, such an attempt would have worked against them should they argue in court that Goodell has overstepped his CBA bounds in this case. Indeed, in its statement, the NFLPA noted it had concerns about the "lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement."
We've been through the NFL's flimsy case against Hargrove a number of times. But today's action means it will take a court ruling or a similar development to get him on the field before midway through the 2012 season.