NFL Summer of Lawsuits


You thought last summer was bad with all the legal mumbo-jumbo that had to be tossed around concerning the lockout and the arbitrators and revenue sharing, yada yada yada.  Last summer has nothing on this summer in the NFL when it comes to lawsuits.  The whole bounty mess down in New Orleans has created a doo-doo storm of legal maneuvers all aimed at circumventing the suspensions Roger Goodell handed down and then upheld against the 4 players singled out in relation to the bounty program the Saints ran in 2009.  Jonathan Vilma, most notably, has filed separate lawsuits against Roger Goodell and the NFL and yesterday the remaining players along with the NFLPA filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the suspensions.   Goodell has since filed a motion to dismiss Vilma’s lawsuit, and it seems that although the players still remain suspended, they are no closer to a resolution than when the suspensions were first handed down.  How will this all end up for the NFL?  How is this making the NFL look?  Do the players actually have a legal case considering most of the points they are trying to argue fall under the CBA in which they signed to give Goodell the supreme power they are questioning he has right now?  It’s enough to make your head spin but it’s fascinating to me.

The bottom line in dealing with the fall-out from the bounty scandal is that Rogeez had to make an example out of somebody.  While Gregg Williams and Sean Payton relatively took their punishments without complaint, the players don’t seem to be falling in line so obediently.  The players are fighting every ruling and statement from Goodell tooth and nail, while in comparison Williams took his suspension without any kind of a fight, and even admitted to running a bounty program while knowing it was wrong and violated league rules.  Payton appealed his suspension but, in a ruling that shocked no one, it was upheld by Goodell and that was the end of that.

The players’ stance on these suspensions, along with the backing from the NFLPA, is that the evidence Goodell presented in justification of the suspensions doesn’t explicitly single out any of the players in relation to a pay-for-injury program.  The idea is inferred by what was released, but there is by no means a “smoking gun” or any documentation stating “I, Jonathan Vilma, do hereby offer $10,000 to whoever knocks the crap out of Brett Favre so we can win this game.”  The evidence infers that there was a pay-for-performance program and that these players were involved in that which is a direct violation of their CBA, but nothing concrete that might warrant a year-long suspension for any player.

The other point the players are arguing is that Rogeez shouldn’t be allowed to determine them guilty based on this circumstantial evidence, and then be the only one to preside over their appeals.  Their lawsuit calls Rogeez “incurably and evidently biased.”  The current CBA states that Goodell holds total and complete control over discipline for conduct detrimental to the league as well as the appeal process for such suspensions.  Earlier, a judge ruled in favor of the NFL when the NFLPA filed a lawsuit challenging Goodell’s authority to punish players and hear appeals.

I keep flip-flopping myself on which side I stand on.  Naturally I never consider myself on Rogeez’s side because I feel like he’s the biggest tool on the planet, but that’s beside the point.  Tool or not, he certainly covered his rear-end when it comes to keeping a hold of that total and supreme power over the NFL and especially its players.  We might as well take this opportunity to remind everyone for the umpteenth time that the Steelers were the only team to refuse to sign the CBA for this very reason.  After seeing Ben Roethlisberger suspended for 6 games (later reduced to 4) for basically being a douche-bag and not actually ever being charged with a crime, and James Harrison being fined upwards of $100K for hits that were for the most part incidental helmet-to-helmet contact, the Steelers weren’t the greatest fans of allowing Rogeez to continue his reign as King of the NFL with ultimate and supreme power.  Not that I’m saying Ben shouldn’t have been suspended, but compare his suspension to the amount of players charged with crimes such as domestic violence, drunk driving, weapons possession, and other offenses who never miss a down let alone a game, Rogeez’s iron clad personal conduct policy is applied a tad inconsistently to say the least.

On one hand you have the players, who have been suspended for offenses based on evidence that doesn’t explicitly single them out as trying to hurt other players for cash prizes but under the cloak that Goodell is trying to send a message to the rest of the league for player safety so he labels them as trying to hurt other players for cash prizes.  Do I think there was a bounty program going on in New Orleans?  Absolutely.  Gregg Williams himself admitted to running it, provided the majority of the evidence to the NFL, and admitted to knowing it was wrong and has never put up the slightest resistance to his indefinite ban from the NFL.  Do I think Jonathan Vilma and Anthony Hargrove specifically targeted players like Brett Favre to injure and offered cash for it?  Probably.  That’s kind of how a bounty program works.  Do I think the evidence the league provided proves these 4 players deserve the suspensions they received?  Not really.  But, these players all agreed to this suspension and appeal process Rogeez is operating under.  There isn’t room to apply things like due process and absolute proof when you have an agreement in place that says you don’t need any of those things.

In my opinion, though, although it seems to be showing more and more each day that Rogeez is covered under the CBA in each of these actions, it’s not making him any less boo-able for the fans.  With the mudslinging going on between the NFLPA, the suspended players, and Rogeez and his NFL minions, it’s only more tarnishing “the shield” in my opinion.  Don’t forget that while all this bounty mess is going on there are lawsuits from former NFL players complaining the NFL ignored health concerns and the NFL officials in a labor dispute with the NFL claiming unfair treatment.  If it wasn’t for the fact that Goodell has the NFL printing its own money, you’d think he’d be in one very warm seat right about now.  These lawsuits and legal disagreements between Goodell and its current and former players are eventually going to take its toll on the NFL, especially if they can’t spend a summer without having to enter a courtroom.  With all the concern for player safety and head injuries it has been suggested that concussions will be the death of the NFL as we know it.  Could it be that concussions are nothing compared to lawsuits?

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