By Rob Maaddi
AP Pro Football Writer
Reinstatement of Tom Brady’s four-game “Deflategate” suspension affirmed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s power — a major point of contention for the NFL players’ union.
The league and the NFLPA have disagreed for years over Goodell’s authority to punish players who violate the personal conduct policy. The union wants a neutral arbiter to issue discipline. The NFL won’t relent.
So why didn’t the NFLPA fight harder to take central power away from Goodell during the last negotiations for a collective bargaining agreement in 2011?
It’s not that simple.
The perception that the union fell short on this issue gained steam Monday when a federal appeals court ruled 2-to-1 that Goodell did not deprive Brady of “fundamental fairness” with his procedural rulings.
But the players and the union had bigger priorities in 2011 when the owners locked them out. Player safety, revenue sharing, salary cap and an 18-game season were just some of the important issues that impact all players. Disciplinary power in the Commissioner’s hands affects only a small percentage of players every year. It wasn’t a problem when Paul Tagliabue, Pete Rozelle and others held the office and it wasn’t a problem under Goodell until recently.
“That authority has been recognized by many courts and has been expressly incorporated into every collective bargaining agreement between the NFL and NFLPA for the past 40 years,” league spokesman Brian McCarthy said.
The NFLPA successfully negotiated for neutral arbitration for on-field discipline in 2010. Four years later, the union gained independent arbitration for drug violations. Those were major wins for the players’ association because most disciplinary cases fall under these two categories.
“Collective bargaining is a tough process that results in a massive contract that governs the way labor interacts with management,” NFLPA spokesman George Atallah told The Associated Press. “To say that the union ‘gave up’ anything in 2011 is, frankly, ignorant. Player leadership sets negotiating priorities on wages, hours, working conditions and rights based on the gains earned in prior negotiations and contracts.
“When a collective bargaining agreement is signed, there is an expectation that both parties will honor it. If the union believes — as we did in the so-called ‘Bounty’ case, the Ray Rice matter and even more recently in the Salary Cap case — that the NFL violated this contract, we challenge their abuse of power.”