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Here they are. Again. Fighting over the same thing: Exactly how far-reaching are NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's disciplinary powers? Nearly four years into their current collective bargaining agreement, neither the NFL nor the NFL Players Association will let it go -- to the detriment of everyone.
The NFLPA revealed the latest salvo Friday in its appeal of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension. It argued first that Goodell violated the CBA by designating the discipline to executive vice president Troy Vincent. It then took a creative stab at its habitual attempt to impose a neutral party over Goodell's right to designate the appeal officer. (By calling Goodell as a witness in the hearing, the NFLPA argued, he must recuse himself as the arbitrator.)
Blah, blah, blah. This is a fight with no end. There are no winners, just incremental leaders. Albert Einstein had a word for people doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. He called it insanity.
As we discussed this week, the NFL has fallen into an exasperating rut in resolving its conflicts. Some of it can be traced to the 2011 CBA negotiations, in which Goodell used substantial leverage to earn a lopsided victory that gave him wide latitude in setting player discipline. The ensuing fight, however, has not simply been about the NFLPA trying to claw back negotiating losses.
Recent history -- the 2012 New Orleans Saints bounty penalties, followed by Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson in 2014 -- have validated the union's litigious response. Goodell was found to have abused, mishandled and/or overstepped his wide boundaries.
Which brings us to Friday's chess moves. The details are slightly different, but the underlying theme has never changed. The appeal language sets up a case that seems increasingly likely to land in court.
Take a moment and think about that. Ultimately, the NFL will have to ask a federal judge -- someone who spends most of his or her time adjudicating real crime and genuine problems -- to decide what (if any) punishment is fair for a player who might have known that footballs could have been intentionally deflated (by a modest degree) to help him win a game. Its 301-page CBA, theoretically written to provide a blueprint for conflict resolution, is rendered inert.
This is what it has come to. The NFLPA feels compelled to protest not just the punishment itself, but the process and intent. The players don't like the power granted to Goodell in the CBA, and that's their tough luck. Beyond that, however, they don't trust that he will follow the stipulations he is bound by. And this week, at least one owner experienced a similar awakening. (See: Kraft, Robert.)
There are assuredly economic and legal reasons to continue this fight. But it's mostly an internal battle between faceless entities whose interests are varied. The rest of us see only lawlessness. We see chaos. We see insanity. And we wonder when, or if, it will end.