NFL Commissioner’s Authority Makes Lowered Punishment Unlikely

 

In Roger Goodell’s NFL, punishment is swift and it is severe. For proof, one need look no further than the 1-year suspension meted out to Saints coach Sean Payton for his role in Bounty-Gate (not to mention the first ever suspension of a General Manager, Saints GM Mickey Loomis). But why can Commissioner Goodell hand down such a steep sentence, and will Payton be successful in his appeal? The answers lie in the extreme power structure that is Commissioner’s Authority in the National Football League.

Under the Personal Conduct Policy (PCP), the NFL Commissioner has without question the greatest authority to punish of any Commissioner in the major American sports leagues. The PCP applies to every individual associated with the League and allows the Commissioner to fine, suspend, or banish those who violate its rules. The scope of the PCP is wide-ranging, covering both conduct on the playing field, as well as conduct that is detrimental to the integrity of the game. And it is that “integrity of the game” provision of which Sean Payton, by overseeing a system of bounties on players and then lying about it, has run afoul.

However, perhaps the biggest advantage Commissioner Goodell has is the lack of independent review of his decisions. While all of his decisions under the PCP are appealable, they may be appealed only to the Commissioner himself (unless the dispute has to do with the language of a contract). While this lack of independent review has been challenged in court, Holmes v. NFL, held that the lack of arbitration does not violate due process, as arbitration (or the lack thereof) was a voluntary component of the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) and therefore constitutional rights did not attach.

So whether the Payton appeal is successful by any measure will be a matter for the Commissioner to decide, in his role as both judge and jury. But would the appeal be successful in another league? While both the NBA and MLB Commissioners have similar ability to punish behavior that is detrimental to the integrity of the game, both are also subject to review by independent arbitrators (in MLB for every penalty and in the NBA for any suspension). Just ask Ryan Braun how important that right of independent arbitration can be.

But this is Roger Goodell’s NFL and he has an image to protect; an image of purity in a game whose real goal is destruction.

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