Okay, so what does it all mean?
By now, everyone and all the beer no longer in his refrigerator know about what happened yesterday. A three-member panel overturned the ruling of arbitrator Stephen Burbank and voided the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove. Roger Goodell bit the head off a small child, was restrained by his security detail, and eventually calmed down after drinking a flagon of nitroglycerin. When last seen, he was reportedly smoking from the ears and threatening to re-issue the suspensions.
And fans are all asking: but what does it mean?
Okay. Not a lawyer. Don’t play one. But here goes. I’m going to try to predict what will come of this—not the legal implications, but how each side will play their hand.
First of all, the facts. The appeals panel ruled that Goodell only had the authority to hear appeals of discipline based on “conduct detrimental” charges, not violations of salary caps. Since this case had aspects of both, Goodell’s position failed purely on procedural grounds. The case was remanded to the “lower court”—i.e., Goodell—for retrial…just as it would be if this were a real court case (these are trained lawyers, after all).
But the panel also told Goodell: you’d better have proof.
Of course, Goodell doesn’t have proof, and never has. That’s what’s behind the frantic efforts to keep this out of court, and even out of the hands of arbitrators who may damage the league’s invisibility cloak. So what will happen if the suspensions are re-issued?
Remember that there is also a case hanging fire in federal court right now. Judge Helen Berrigan has already stated that she would rule in favor of the players and issue an injunction against the suspensions, if she could find a legal way to do so. And this may give her that way.
If Goodell re-issues the suspensions, but continues to hide the evidence, the players will initiate a new appeals process inside the NFL. They will, at the same time, go to Berrigan and plead for an immediate injunction as their only protection. Remember that Vilma has sued Goodell for defamation, and Goodell’s only sure defense against that charge is that his accusations against Vilma are true. But that depends on the evidence. Since all the cases against the NFL have been combined, allowing Vilma’s suit to proceed is essentially tied to the request for an injunction against the suspensions. Perhaps—and this is where being a lawyer would actually come in handy—perhaps she can sever the cases, and rule on them separately; but my own feeling is that if Goodell tries the same power play—fuck you, your asses are suspended, and no evidence for you—Berrigan is likely to rise up in righteous wrath. Remember that she has done everything but get down on her knees and beg both sides to compromise, and save her from having to make a decision. Now, if Goodell pisses on her, how do you think she’s liable to rule?
And if Vilma’s suit goes to discovery, it’s all over for the NFL.
Of course, the NFL and Goodell know that. A protracted fight dragging through a federal court, in which the league’s standard of “evidence” is exposed, would be a public relations nightmare. So here’s my guess:
I think it’s time for a few of the owners to have a little chat with Roger. Remind him that he has employers, men whose balls are every bit as big as his and whose bank accounts are even bigger. Way bigger. And they want this whole sorry episode to go away, quickly and quietly, and they don’t care what kind of shit or how much Roger has to eat in order to make it do so.
Oh: and it better not happen again.
There is, against this assumption, the argument that doing so will undermine the league’s position regarding concussions: that it’s not the league which is at fault, that it’s rogue elements like Payton and Williams and Vilma, that Roger cares. The problem is: that position has always been weak. It’s obviously bogus, and would be easily demolished by any lawyer barely out of diapers. It is, essentially, nothing but a public relations ploy—and when a rival public relations ploy with a better chance of succeeding (“We’re fair-minded and well-intentioned men, and we know how to admit a mistake, so sleep…sleeeeeeppppp…”) comes along, you go with the stronger hand.
The alternative for Goodell will be to take a stand, with the understanding that if he goes down, he goes down all the way. So if the suspensions are re-issued, it will constitute a declaration of intent to prosecute a total war. Either Goodell will be completely victorious—or else he’s singing his death song.
Here’s the ultimate fantasy. I’m not saying this is what will happen. I’m not even saying there’s much of a chance of it happening. But while it’s probably about as unlikely as finding a Higgs boson with a spoon, it remains an intriguing theoretical possibility: that when the Lombardi Trophy is handed over to the winning coach in February, it will be Sean Payton who takes it, and not from the hand of Roger Goodell, but from the interim commissioner. Whoever that may be.
On the Jukebox
I came across this the other day, and because it’s sooooo Asheville I just had to share it. Not music, but funny.