An arbitrator ruled against the NFL Players Association on Sunday, noting the league's personal conduct policy did not violate the Collective Bargaining Agreement, per ESPN.com.
In particular, arbitrator Jonathan B. Marks upheld the league's use of paid leave as well as "the commissioner's authority to discipline players for conduct detrimental to the league."
The NFLPA had challenged commissioner Roger Goodell's broad power to levy punishments against players and the league's use of paid leave or the commissioner exempt list when investigating players who may have violated the personal conduct policy.
The exempt list allows teams to remove a player from its 53-man roster but also allows it to pay that player, if it chooses, while an investigation of a crime, for instance, is underway. The most famous example was Adrian Peterson in 2014 when he was charged with "reckless or negligent injury to a child" before ultimately pleading no contest to misdemeanor reckless assault, per Ian O'Connor of ESPN.com.
In fact, Marks' ruling appears to broaden the commissioner's power in the disciplinary department, as Andrew Brandt of ESPN and Daniel Kaplan of SportsBusiness Journal discussed on Twitter:
However, Marks did change the exempt list in one key way, as he wrote in his ruling (via Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk):
The player, or the NFLPA with the player’s approval, may within three days following written notification [of placement on the commissioner’s exempt list] appeal in writing to the commissioner. Either the commissioner or his designee, appointed after consultation with the executive director of the NFLPA, will serve as hearing officer. At the hearing, the player may be accompanied by counsel and both the NFLPA and the NFL may be present and present evidence.
That means a new precedent will need to be set, as Florio explained:
Marks did not address whether the commissioner is required to stay the placement of the player on the commissioner’s exempt list until the hearing is resolved. This means that the issue will likely be resolved the first time the device is used.
If the commissioner declines to stay the implementation of the placement of the player on the commissioner’s exempt list until the hearing has been held, an arbitration will be conducted on an expedited basis. Possibly, the union will take the issue to court for a ruling that, until the hearing has been resolved, the player can’t be kept from playing, even with pay.
So while Marks' ruling was ultimately a win for the NFL, the NFLPA will have recourse the next time the exempt list is used by an NFL team. That will set the next important precedent in the disciplinary process, at least until the next CBA is negotiated by the NFL and NFLPA.
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