Arbitrator hears NFL, union cases

Updated: May 16, 2012, 8:32 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

NEW YORK -- Arbitrator Shyam Das heard arguments Wednesday from NFL and players union lawyers on whether commissioner Roger Goodell can discipline players for actions that occurred before the league's labor agreement was signed last August.

The hearing, which stemmed from the NFL's bounty investigation of the New Orleans Saints, lasted more than two hours. Outside counsel Dan Nash argued the NFL's position and lawyer Jeff Kessler spoke for the NFL Players Association.

The union filed a grievance after Goodell suspended four current and former Saints players earlier this month in connection with the bounty probe. Former Saints Anthony Hargrove, who was suspended eight games, and Scott Fujita, who was suspended for three, attended Wednesday's grievance hearing. Also suspended were current Saints Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and Will Smith for four games.

Wednesday's hearing dealt with whether an agreement between the union and the league as part of last summer's labor negotiations precluded the NFL from punishing the Saints players in this case.

Das did not say when he would rule, and a source told ESPN's Andrew Brandt that the hearing was "very dry" and Das didn't say much and simply took notes.

All four players have appealed their punishments.

A separate arbitration hearing into whether Goodell has the authority to impose penalties on Saints players who participated in the team's cash-for-hits system has been set for May 30.

The union has asked arbitrator Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania to decide if the players should be punished for the system that the league says ran for three years and paid improper cash bonuses for hits that injured targeted opponents.

The union argues that Burbank, not Goodell, should hear the four players' appeals.

Previously, Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season in connection with the bounties. General manager Mickey Loomis got eight games, assistant coach Joe Vitt -- now serving as Saints interim coach -- received six games, and the club was fined $500,000.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, tagged by the league as the coach who ran the bounty program, is suspended indefinitely.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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