Wednesday, December 24, 2014

The NFL's appeal process. A major flaw

We've seen it over and over again. For various reasons, ranging from drug policy violations to thuggish behavior both on and off the field, NFL players have been suspended. Sometimes it's one game, sometimes two, maybe 4,6,8, or an entire season. It depends on the severity of their actions and whether they were a repeat offender. Boys will be boys and occasionally they need their pee-pees whacked -- or at least their wallets -- to get them to straighten up and act right. We all get that.

But it's not quite that simple. Once a suspension has been handed down from the league offices, the player, rightfully so, can appeal it. It used to be that the appeal would be heard by the very same people (see Roger Goodell) that handed down the original punishment. This sort of policy might be expected in a banana republic dictatorship, but it flew in the face of long-accepted American legal standards. For the most part, nowadays such appeals wind up in front of neutral arbitrators, and that's a good thing.

With few exceptions, players will always appeal any suspension and/or fine, and why wouldn't they? Basically, they've had nothing to lose. It's not like they have to fork over big bucks to hire an attorney to represent them. The Players Union takes care of that -- free of charge. They have legions of lawyers. Throw in player agents who are mostly lawyers themselves, and any jocks appealing a "conviction" have no worries when it comes to mouthpieces arguing their case.  All the player has to do is show up -- and sometimes even THAT isn't necessary.

But one major flaw remains with the process. Let's look at a recent case as an example. Center Dominic Raiola of the Detroit Lions. He just got suspended for one game for stomping on the leg of an opponent that was face down on the field. The "stompee" was one Ego Ferguson, a rookie lineman of the Chicago Bears. In similar past cases, such an action has resulted in a two game suspension, and they've stuck. For whatever reason, Raiola got off easy. Yet he can appeal and could conceivably have his one game suspension waived, as the Lions prepare to face the Green Bay Packers in their biggest game of the season to date.

Raiola has much to gain and nothing to lose. The worst that can happen to him is his original suspension is upheld. What he did to Ferguson was obvious, blatant, intentional (he looked right down at him and aimed before stomping) and the video is damning evidence of same.

Just for fun, pretend you're the arbitrator that is hearing his appeal. Like any other perp, his past "rap sheet" will be admitted into evidence. And it is long. Over the years, Raiola has clubbed an opposing player in the back of the head as time was running out in a game. He attempted to take out the knees of another in the waning seconds of a different contest. He's flipped off and yelled obscenities at fans in his OWN stadium, and even abused a member of a college marching band, of all things. Throw in various other personal fouls and cheap shots over the years, and to say he's had a checkered past would be putting it mildly. Basically, he's been a serial thug that knows how to bend over, snap the ball to a quarterback and block once in a while. Further, he's been a trash-talker for his whole career. And now he, or at least his legal-eagles, stand before you and ask you to commute his one game suspension for the latest atrocity. What would you do?

This is where the system is flawed. When hearing an appeal, an arbitrator should not only consider the options of reducing the "sentence" or leaving it as is, but also INCREASING it.

Let's get real. In any other court in the land, if a defendant admits his/her guilt and cops a plea, they typically receive a lighter sentence. However, if they insist on a full-blown trial and wind up losing anyway, they'll get banged harder.

Why shouldn't it be the same when it comes to NFL players appealing fines and/or suspensions?

If a guy like Raiola wants to drag it out through the appeal process, that is certainly his right. But if he loses, he should face the same consequences any other citizen would. The penalty becomes harsher. Instead of the original slap on the wrist one game suspension, make it at least two, like others before him have received for similar incidents. And in light of his "rap sheet", recidivism rate, and total lack of remorse along the way, as an arbitrator, yours truly might bump up his suspension to 6 or 8 games.

While the Lions would lose an aging loose-cannon center until likely next October, consider the up-sides.

The Lions would likely be better off without him anyway. He continues to be a distraction and will be pushing 37 when the 2015 season starts. That's getting up there in NFL years and Raiola will shortly need replacing regardless.

But there's an even greater up-side to be had if an arbitrator increased Raiola's penalty as mentioned above.

Instead of the other players around the league that are obviously guilty of various infractions frivolously pursuing an appeal with everything to gain and nothing to lose -- it will have been made known there indeed is something to lose if they decide to roll the dice in such a manner. If one thinks they are the victim of an injustice, then by all means pursue it. But if one knows they did the evil deed and are just trying to play the system for a break -- that is something else entirely.

They might win -- or they might lose. But there will be consequences either way. An olive branch or a hammer. As Dirty Harry once said, do you feel lucky, punk?

Sounds fair enough to me........

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