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NFLPA reportedly challenges Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority in Saints' bounty suspensions

By Nate Ulrich Published: May 4, 2012

The NFL Players Association has filed grievances in an attempt to steer the review of appeals in the New Orleans’ Saints bounty suspensions away from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Pro Football Talk reported this morning.

ProPlayerInsiders.com, a licensed partner of NFL Players Inc., a subsidiary of the union, released information about the union’s legal action on its website.

The NFL responded to the grievances in a statement, which can be found at the bottom of this post.

On Wednesday, the league announced it had suspended Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09, three games for his role in the scandal. It also suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season, former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who’s now with the Green Bay Packers, for eight games, and Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games.

In March, Fujita told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King he paid teammates for making big plays like sacks and interceptions, but not for trying to intentionally injure opponents. Vilma and Smith have release statements denying their involvement in a pay-for-injury program.

According to Pro Football Talk, the union’s grievances argue the following: Goodell lacks the authority to discipline players for conduct occurring before August 4, 2011, the date on which the current collective bargaining agreement was finalized; Ted Cottrell and Art Shell have authority over the appeal process, not Goodell. Cottrell and Shell have been jointly appointed by the league and the union to handle the appeals of fines or suspensions for “conduct on the playing field with respect to an opposing player or players.” The union argues the bounty allegations are in that category.

The union also filed a “System Arbitration” proceeding, arguing the issue of payments made to players apart from their contracts should be resolved by Special Master Stephen Burbank, according to Pro Football Talk. As outlined in the labor deal, Burbank’s jurisdiction includes payments to players beyond their contracts.

On May 2, Commissioner Goodell suspended four current or former New Orleans Saints players for conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL based on their participation in the pay-for-performance/bounty program that operated during the 2009-2011 seasons.

Here's the statement from the league:

On May 2, Commissioner Goodell suspended four current or former New Orleans Saints players for conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL based on their participation in the pay-for-performance/bounty program that operated during the 2009-2011 seasons.

Last night, the NFLPA initiated two arbitration proceedings challenging the suspensions. The proceedings do not challenge the underlying facts, which were first shared with the union more than two months ago after being obtained from Saints executives, coaches, players, and others. The proceedings also do not challenge the reasonableness of the discipline imposed by the commissioner.

In one proceeding, the union seeks immunity for the four suspended players, a position it never advanced during months of discussion on this matter. In the other, the union argues that someone other than the commissioner should have imposed the discipline.

We expect that the arbitrators will 1) reject the union’s efforts to protect players from accountability for prohibited and dangerous conduct directed against other players and 2) uphold the disciplinary process that was so carefully negotiated in the Collective Bargaining less than a year ago

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