Posts Tagged ‘Jonathan Vilma’

Guilty Until Proven Innocent?: Roger Goodell and the Saints’ Bounty Scandal

Monday was expected to be the appeal day for suspended NFL players Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith. The four were in New York to appeal their respective suspensions, handed down in early May for the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.

Fujita, Hargrove and Smith chose not to attend the appeal session and instead released a joint statement criticizing Goodell for his handling of the situation, and especially his withholding of evidence against the players. Vilma meanwhile showed up to the appeal with is attorney, but left after only an hour at the league offices, telling the media outside that the process was “a sham.”

CBS Sports managed to obtain a copy of the league’s evidence against the players, which includes a $5,000 knockout pool for injuring a quarterback, but nothing else. If there is more evidence against the players, the NFL isn’t releasing it.

The most striking quote from today’s events comes from Vilma, who questioned the players’ ability to get a fair trial through due process.

“I don’t know how you get a fair process when you get [Roger Goodell as] judge, jury and executioner,” Vilma said.

That begs the question: Is Roger Goodell too powerful? Certainly Goodell is not the only commissioner in major professional sports who has the power to suspend players. Bud Selig hands out punishment in Major League Baseball, and David Stern does the same in the NBA. But these sports, by their nature, don’t have the amount of incidents that would warrant suspension.

Hockey and football do, and in the NHL there is a separate executive in charge of suspensions. Brendan Shanahan, who played 21 years in the league and won three Stanley Cups, is the league’s Senior Vice President of Player Safety and hands out suspensions, each with a video explanation  he posts on his Twitter page. Shanahan’s decisions are not without outcry from players and teams, but at least it is handled by a former player who understands the game and not commissioner Gary Bettman.

In just over five years as commissioner, Goodell has already handed out more suspensions than any other boss in NFL history. He isn’t called “the most powerful man in sports” for nothing. But for all his power, it’s clear Goodell has made some enemies during his tenure, and that’s not good for the future of the league.

The players are understandably upset, but they agreed last summer to have Goodell continue overseeing discipline when they signed the new collective bargaining agreement. As CBS Sports’ Clark Judge pointed out, Vilma and others signed off on Goodell’s power, so they should direct their anger elsewhere.

This may be true, but it’s not what’s best for the league going forward.

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A House Divided: NFL, Players Association Feud Could Spell the End for Football’s Fortune

On the outside the NFL is the cash cow of the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). A recent study by Plunkett Research, Ltd. shows the NFL exceeds the other leagues in every monetary category. Football ranks first in overall revenue ($9 billion), operating income ($1,069 million) and average team value ($1 billion). The league has captured the attention of sports nuts as well, accounting for 23 of the 25 most-watched telecasts from Sept. to Dec.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized heavily by the NFLPA, even in what was billed as a decade of labor peace.

The good times might not last much longer, however, if the league and players association can’t get along. Just like John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, this power duo is showing signs of a breakup:

First, there was the lockout. For 136 days from March to mid-July, the NFL and NFLPA sat on opposite sides of a debate on league revenue, the longest in league history. After a heated summer of negotiations, the pair finally agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

Next, benefits for retired players. Football is a violent game, and many players have experienced health issues after retiring from the sport. Ex-players say the NFL doesn’t care about the health of retired players and doesn’t do enough for them. The recent suicides of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau show the effects the game can have. As much as this is an issue for the players union to handle, the NFL will continue to look bad if it doesn’t do its part.

This leads to player safety issues. This has actually been a testy topic for the past three years. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been committed to making the game safer, as evidenced by his harsh punishment for the Saints bounty scandal. Goodell has already levied more fines against players than any other commissioner in league history, leading to criticism from players such as James Harrison and a defamation lawsuit from Jonathan Vilma.

Finally, two separate issues emerged on Wednesday that further strained the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA. The players union is unhappy about the league’s decision to make thigh and knee pads mandatory for the 2013 season, claiming such a rule should be negotiated. Also on Wednesday, the NFLPA filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly setting a $123 million salary cap in 2010, which was supposed to be an uncapped year. By secretly setting a cap, the NFLPA claims the league and its owners confided to keep player salaries low.

It’s unsettling for football fans to think that all this is happening in the first year of what is supposed to be a 10-year window of labor peace. Matters only seem to be getting worse, arguably more so than during the lockout last year. It’s not a stretch to imagine another lockout occurring in the next three to five years if matters don’t improve.

Through it all the sport remains as popular and successful as ever. Perhaps the two sides should take a lesson from The Beatles and let it be.

Photo (cc) by Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, USAF and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.