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Appeal to reason: Goodell, Smith both fail system

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Hub Arkush
Publisher and editor

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Posted June 25, 2012 @ 2:53 p.m. ET
By Hub Arkush

In the view from 10,000 feet above, it seems more than clear to me that former Saints defensive coordinator Greg Williams instituted and oversaw a system of cash rewards to his defensive players for plays made during games and that head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis were aware of it and ignored warnings from commissioner Roger Goodell’s office to put a stop to it. For that, I suppose, they should all be punished.

Is it the heinous, game-changing violation of the rules or spirit of the game that the league office has made it out to be? When you consider that the basic premise of pro football played at its highest level is to hit the guy across from you so hard on every play that you steal his will and quite possibly knock him out of the game to boot, I doubt that giving players (who make on the average about three quarters of a million dollars per year) a couple hundred extra bucks for their success makes much of a difference. But that’s just me.

What I can get passionate about, however, is the debate that now rages over the suspensions of individual players and the farce that is being played out in the media over what the commissioner’s office is laughingly calling the appeals process. This joke is a far bigger embarrassment to the NFL than Bountygate.

Whether or not Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita — the recipients of the suspensions in question and filers of the appeals — are guilty as charged, I have no idea. I do know, though, that all the wailing and gnashing of teeth coming from their lawyers and representatives over the lack of due process, the proper chain of evidence and the validity of witness testimony is a waste of good oxygen.

There was a time when normal courtroom procedures in this country mattered as they related to the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement. That would have been until late last summer when the NFLPA’s executive committee, executive director DeMaurice Smith and the players themselves gave up judicial oversight of the CBA along with all the other givebacks they gave the owners in exchange for ...

Article 46, Section 1 (a) of the current CBA states: “All disputes involving a fine or suspension imposed upon a player for conduct on the playing field (other than as described in subsection (b) below) or involving action taken against a player by the Commissioner for conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football, will be processed exclusively as follows: the Commissioner will promptly send written notice of his action to the player, with a copy to the NFLPA.”

Subsection (b) refers to fines or suspensions for unnecessary roughness or unsportsmanlike conduct on the field. That’s it folks. You don’t get a trial or a hearing or a defense; the commish looks into it, and if he feels like it, he finds you guilty.

Article 46, Section 2 (a) states: “For appeals under section 1 (a) above, the Commissioner shall, after consultation with the Executive Director of the NFLPA, appoint one or more designees to serve as hearing officers.” Then, at the end of that paragraph, it states: “the Commissioner may serve as hearing officer in any appeal under Section 1 (a) of this article at his discretion.”

Really? The owners had the balls to ask for that and the players were stupid enough to agree?

For those of you unfamiliar with the legal system in this country, complaints are heard and adjudicated in one set of courts and then appeals are sent to a separate appellate court system. Because when you think about it, what are the odds a judge is going to study your case and rule on it, but then when he hears you don’t like the ruling stand up in public and say, “Gosh, you’re right, am I dumb, let’s change the ruling?”

The commissioner has every right to rule to protect the integrity of — and public confidence in — the game. In fact, he has a responsibility to. But for him to suggest that the players he has just ruled against have any chance of a fair hearing with him, then serving as the appellate judge of their appeals is an insult to anyone who believes in due process.

Just because the players’ union and its leadership don’t get that doesn’t mean Goodell shouldn’t. Wouldn’t that qualify as protecting the integrity of the game?

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