The NFL's collective bargaining agreement (CBA) grants NFL commissioner Roger Goodell the authority not only to punish players for conduct detrimental to the league, but also to serve as the arbiter of the ensuing appeals process. But does the CBA establish standards for fairness and objectivity? So goes the crux of the NFL Players Association's lawsuit against the NFL, filed Thursday -- two days after Goodell rejected the appeals of Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and three other players in the New Orleans Saints bounty case.
The lawsuit called the NFL's investigation and appeals process "a sham" and added: "A seminal question for this court is whether the NFL collective bargaining agreement ... granted the commissioner, when serving as an arbitrator, the authority to disregard the essence of the parties' agreement, to conduct proceedings that are fundamentally unfair, and to act with evident bias and without jurisdiction. The answer, under governing case law, is clearly 'no.'"
It's going to be a tough fight for the NFLPA to overturn the players' suspensions, which include eight games for Hargrove. The NFL noted in a statement that there is "no basis for asking a federal court to put its judgment in place of the procedures agreed upon with the NFLPA in collective bargaining."
We've noted the NFL's flimsy case against Hargrove, but is it up to a court to determine whether the league's case is airtight? Already, two independent arbitrators have upheld Goodell's position. Like it or not, the CBA might give Goodell the authority to determine the validity of evidence. Still, neither Hargrove nor any of the players actively defended themselves during the appeals process, wanting to avoid the legal confirmation of Goodell's right to judge them in this matter.
For most of us, this lawsuit only matters in the sense that it could impact Hargrove's availability to the Packers for the first eight games of the season. He's eligible to participate in training camp and the preseason, so his suspension wouldn't begin for about two months.
ESPN's Adam Schefter has reported the NFLPA could seek an injunction as well, presumably to lift the suspensions while the rest of the legal mess plays out. Stay tuned.