NEW ORLEANS -- The NFL is again urging a federal judge to avoid interfering in commissioner Roger Goodell's efforts to discipline four players for the New Orleans Saints' cash-for-hits bounty pool.
In a response Wednesday to papers the players filed earlier this week, the NFL says its collective bargaining agreement with the players' union gives Goodell the power to handle discipline involving conduct detrimental to football "at his discretion."
U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan is considering the players' request to overturn varying suspensions to Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (full season), Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (seven games) and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita (one game).
The players also want Berrigan to appoint a "neutral arbitrator" to handle any discipline in the matter.
The NFL argues that the players' request "turns the CBA (and the law) on its head."
"The parties agreed to "trust in (the Commissioner's) personal judgment," the papers filed by the NFL said.
The players have argued Goodell's public comments about the matter, dating to before he had even disciplined the players, prove he cannot be impartial, and therefore has violated the players' industrial due process rights, which are also an inherent part the league's labor deal.
The NFL responded that the standard to prove partiality for an arbitrator within the framework of a labor agreement is much higher than for a judge in a court case. The league cited case law stating, "Nothing in the parties' contract requires arbitrators to arrive with empty heads."
The NFL also argued its evidence in the bounty matter is strong enough to justify the commissioner's actions, whether he was partial to one side or not.
"When all of the circumstances are considered, it is clear that the reasonable observer would not have to conclude that ... the outcome is due to `bias," the NFL said. "The circumstances here include the fact that Plaintiffs do not dispute that the Saints program offered incentives for cart-offs and knockouts, and that cart-offs and knockouts were plays in which an opposing player was disabled or injured, at least temporarily.
"Not disputing that this program existed, Plaintiffs should not be heard to complain that an adverse appeal decision would have to be due to bias."