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Cleveland Browns

Arbitrator rejects one of union's grievances against NFL in Saints' bounty scandal

By Nate Ulrich Published: June 4, 2012

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita has reserved the right to appeal his three-game suspension for his alleged role in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal pending the outcome of the NFL Players Association’s grievances against the league.

A ruling on one of those grievances was made public this morning.

Special Master Stephen Burbank has rejected the union’s argument that under the collective bargaining agreement NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell does not have jurisdiction to discipline players for the alleged conduct. The union argued that Burbank, not Goodell, has the authority to punish players for alleged salary-cap violations.

The union has announced it will appeal Burbank's decision.

"Any pay-to-injure program runs counter to the health and safety principles we stand for as players," the NFLPA said in a statement. "However, none of the players punished in this case have seen a shred of evidence justifying the NFL’s punishment."

In addition to Fujita, Saints defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for four games, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a former member of the Saints, for eight games.

“System Arbitrator Stephen Burbank upheld the commissioner’s authority under the Collective Bargaining Agreement to impose “conduct detrimental” discipline on players who provided or offered to provide financial incentives to injure opponents,” the league said in a statement. “He also upheld the commissioner’s authority to impose such discipline against players who obstructed a league investigation. The System Arbitrator thus confirmed the commissioner’s authority to suspend Mr. Fujita, Mr. Smith and Mr. Vilma. He invited the commissioner to clarify the precise basis for his discipline of Mr. Hargrove who, among other things, was found to have lied to the league’s investigators and obstructed their investigation.”

The outcome of a separate grievance heard by arbitrator Shyam Das is still hanging in the balance. The NFLPA has also argued that Goodell does not have the authority to punish players for conduct occurring before the new CBA was signed last August and that Art Shell or Ted Cottrell, who are jointly appointed by the league and union to review discipline for on-field conduct, should rule on appeals instead of Goodell.

Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09 before signing with the Browns, has repeatedly denied the league’s accusations that he contributed money to a pool that paid players for intentionally injuring opponents.

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