As training camp gets closer, the battle wages on between the NFL, the NFLPA and the four Saints players suspended for portions of the 2012 season for their alleged involvement in a pay-to-injure program run by then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. The NFLPA has filed a suit against the NFL on behalf of three of the four players, and a settlement conference has been scheduled for July 23.
The NFLPA’s lawsuit was filed in federal court in New Orleans late last week and stated that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell violated the collective bargaining agreement in his suspension of Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita. The fourth player suspended, Jonathan Vilma, has already filed suits against the NFL and Goodell independently.
The suit states that the NFL violated the labor agreement by denying access to “critical documents or witnesses, or anything resembling the fairness mandated by the CBA and governing industrial due process law.” The suit also goes on to restate the NFLPA’s position that Goodell does not have the authority to punish players for this type of pay-for-performance system, even if there was sufficient evidence, and that this authority rests in the hands of the system arbitrator as specified in the CBA signed last summer.
The NFL rejected the authority of the courts in the matter, saying that there was “no basis for asking a federal court to put its judgment in place of the procedures agreed upon with the NFLPA in collective bargaining.”
While that case begins to work its way through the courts, along with the separate cases filed by Vilma and his attorneys, there is a settlement conference scheduled for July 23 between the NFL and the four players.
In his rejection of the appeal this past week, Goodell left the door open slightly by reserving the right to reconsider the suspensions if new evidence is brought to light. The July 23 conference appears to be an attempt to get both parties at the table to discuss evidence and try to reach a negotiated agreement. The NFLPA has argued that the NFL has failed to produce sufficient evidence to suspend the players, and the NFL has argued that the players have not supplied counter evidence proving their innocence (as the NFL seems to disregard the “innocent until proven guilty” maxim).
With entrenched positions on both sides, it seems unlikely that a resolution will be reached without the courts weighing in on at least some of the pending cases.