Johnathan Vilma Vs. NFL

This story is interesting.  Allegedly, the New Orleans Saints had an improper incentive program.  Players were paid for injuring players on the other team, or for big plays.  NFL rules forbid teams from paying bonuses for specific plays.  Players can earn bonuses based on their overall performance, but not for specific plays.  For example, a player can earn a bonus for scoring 20 touchdowns in a season, but not for scoring a touchdown in a specific game.

The bonus system was operated informally by the coaches and some players.  Some coaches were suspended.  They didn’t challenge their suspension, because they want to resume their career without hassle.  The team was also penalized, losing draft picks.

Some of the players were suspended.  Johnathan Vilma was suspended for an entire season, because he was the ringleader.  Other players received lesser suspensions.

Johnathan Vilma filed a lawsuit, challenging his suspension.

The NFL CBA has a serious defect.  The commissioner decides punishments for players.  He also gets to hear any appeals.  That’s a potential conflict, but it’s in the CBA.  The players’ union wanted to change that in the most recent CBA, but they didn’t.  Having caved on nearly every other major issue, I’m surprised that the players didn’t fix that CBA flaw.  To be most fair, player suspension appeals should be heard by an arbitrator, and not the NFL commissioner.

During the appeal, Johnathan Vilma’s lawyers didn’t present any evidence.  They claimed that the process was inherently unfair, and refused to participate.

In that article, the judge made a serious error.  She said “The CBA gives the commissioner power as arbitrator.  I can’t overturn the commissioner’s arbitration decision, because that’s in the CBA.”

That is false.  Any decision by an arbitrator can be reviewed by a judge.  However, there is a burden of proof, to show that the arbitrator made a mistake.  The judge can overturn the NFL commissioner’s decision, if she thinks it was a clearcut mistake.

A year long suspension seems excessive.  There’s no precedent.  The CBA does not specify the penalty for breaking that rule.  The CBA has a serious flaw, because the NFL commissioner both decides player punishment and also hears any appeals.  The judge made a serious error.  A judge can overturn an arbitrator’s decision if there’s proof that it was a mistake.  Even if there’s a CBA and an arbitration clause, the arbitrator’s decision can be reversed if it’s clearly wrong.

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