NFLPA and Vilma Take Legal Action Challenging Goodell’s Authority in “Bounty”

The NFLPA, representing Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita, and Jonathan Vilma filed papers Monday in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana seeking to have NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell remove himself from the appeals process as it relates to the suspensions he issued to the four players last week. That’s something that the Commissioner, to date, has been unwilling to do. Under the CBA, Goodell can designate responsibility for the internal appeal to someone else.

In its motion, the NFLPA writes that the, “players seek only what the law requires: an objectively unbiased arbitrator who can provide them with a fundamentally fair process and a bona fide opportunity to defend themselves against the Commissioner’s false charges concerning an alleged “bounty” scheme to encourage injuring NFL players.”

The NFLPA in its motion argues that although Goodell was given the power in the current CBA to discipline players for conduct detrimental to the game, he may only do so if he complies with “governing legal standards.”

On September 7, in accordance with the CBA, a three person panel reviewed Goodell’s previous disciplinary decision and then overturned the suspensions of  Will Smith (4-games), Johnathan Vilma (entire season), Anthony Hargrove (8-games), and Scott Fujita (4-games). The panel said that Goodell was punishing the players for their involvement in a pay-to-play scheme which falls under the jurisdiction of the System Arbitrator and therefore overturned the suspensions. It directed the  Commissioner to refine the parameters of the suspensions and to clarify why discipline was being imposed. Following that decision, Smith, Vilma, Hargrove and Fujita each met with Goodell.

“[The] Commissioner went through the motions of receiving additional evidence and meeting with the players, purportedly to determine if any discipline remained appropriate under his conduct detrimental authority as required by the CBA Appeals Panel,” the NFLPA writes in its motion.

As evidence of the lack of due process the NFLPA points out that the Commissioner re-issued 28 of the 31 games he previously imposed and alleges that his decision ignored conflicting testimony, evidence and failed to objectively evaluate the facts.  The motion states that “despite representations that the Commissioner would objectively reconsider the discipline, the NFL orchestrated a charade which took its prior disregard for fair process to new heights.”

The internal (league) appeals hearings for all four players are currently scheduled to take place in New York City next Tuesday according to  The filings by the players are asking U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan to bar Goodell from handling any further action in the bounty matter and appoint a neutral arbitrator.



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