“The record, based on numerous witness interviews, and substantial documentary evidence, clearly shows that Saints defensive players and coaches organized, administered and funded a pay-for-performance bounty program for three seasons, that the program included…improper cash rewards for injuring opposing players.” – Arbitrator Stephen Burbank
With those words, Arbitrator Burbank dealt a severe blow to the NFLPA’s argument that Commissioner Roger Goodell has no authority to hand out punishments in the New Orleans Saints Bounty case. The NFL released the following statement:
“System Arbitrator Stephen Burbank upheld the commissioner’s authority under the collective bargaining agreement to impose ‘conduct detrimental’ discipline on players who provided or offered to provide financial incentives to injure opponents,” league spokesman Greg Aiello wrote in an e-mail to NFL.com. “He also upheld the commissioner’s authority to impose such discipline against players who obstructed a league investigation. The System Arbitrator thus confirmed the commissioner’s authority to suspend Mr. Fujita, Mr. Smith and Mr. Vilma. He invited the commissioner to clarify the precise basis for his discipline of Mr. Hargrove who, among other things, was found to have lied to the league’s investigators and obstructed their investigation.“
The NFLPA promised to appeal this ruling and released a statement on their own:
Any pay-to-injure program runs counter to the health and safety principles we stand for as players. However, none of the players punished in this case have seen a shred of evidence justifying the NFL’s punishment.
In the opinion, system arbitrator Stephen Burbank wrote, “[I]t is important to emphasize – with respect to all of the Players – that nothing in this opinion is intended to convey a view about the underlying facts or the appropriateness of the discipline imposed.”
The union believes that the players are entitled to neutral arbitration of these issues under the CBA and will continue to fight for that principle and to protect the fair due process rights of all players.
In all honesty, this ruling was expected and only served to strengthen the Iron Fist which Commissioner Goodell rules the league with. The NFLPA presented a weak argument that was batted down in the court of law. The statement included in Burbank’s ruling which says the NFL has proven the existence of the Bounty Program should go a long way in quieting those requests for additional evidence to be presented.