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NFLPA Is Barking, But Will It Bite?

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Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images.

In case you missed it, DeMaurice Smith of the Players’ Union fired a shot across the bow of commissioner Roger Goodell.

The NFLPA executive director discussed several crucial, timely issues during an interview with ESPN’s Sal Palantonio.

Smith said Goodell has a “credibility gap," citing what he believed to be the heavier punishment handed out to players compared with owners. He’s referring to Jim Irsay, who was arrested and later charged for DUI for prescription medication. Irsay has not been disciplined by the NFL.

Goodell’s response to Smith’s comments stressed the importance of the legal process, with the commissioner saying he was following the Irsay situation and denying there’s a double standard.

But forget the debate about the punishment for Irsay. This is about the NFLPA wanting to get back into the game that Goodell, like a dynastic team, has dominated for many years.

Disciplinary matters are merely a pretext for Smith to criticize Goodell. I mean, Goodell has been strict on everyone and will certainly come down hard on Irsay. I tend to agree with Goodell on the specific matter of Irsay’s punishment because the blood tests haven’t come back yet. (This is because the substances weren’t alcohol but prescription medications, which are more difficult to test for. Blood-alcohol test results are known immediately.)

Smith also mentioned the possibility of NFL playoff expansion and HGH testing as key issues, with the NFLPA determined not to allow Goodell to rule the NFL like his fiefdom. Those matters strike to the heart of what’s most important in the league.

The NFL owners will discuss playoff expansion in the coming month, with many observers believing that one wildcard team in each conference will be added, either this season or the next. 

There is no HGH testing now. The reason, Smith said, is that is has been held up because Goodell wants to be the sole arbiter. He articulated this during the ESPN interview.

"It's not being held up on anything that has to do with HGH," Smith said. "It's not being held up on anything that has to do with DUIs. It's not being held up on anything that has to do with the frequency of testing.

"It's being held up because one man wants to keep the power to be the judge, jury and executioner. That's not right."

You know what, I agree. I think the union has a point that it should be not be treated like peasants (albeit well-paid ones). 

With regard to HGH testing, I like the union's idea of having a neutral arbitrator instead of Goodell.  

I think the union decided that, after Goodell’s unilateral punishments for Bountygate — which it had no part of, and which involved overreaching authority by the commissioner — it would have to make a stand at some point. So far it’s acted like a rubber-stamp parliament, with Goodell the benevolent (and, yes, so far, mostly wise) dictator. (Let’s recall, though, that all the Bountygate player punishments, though not those for coaches or the team, were voided.)

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Wise words from Britain's Lord Acton. I think Goodell would do well to heed that warning when it comes to HGH testing and with all other issues that arise in the NFL. 

Regarding the postseason, Smith said that expanding the playoffs would be a change in working conditions, which would require consultation with the NFLPA. 

We all know that the NFLPA is a weak cousin of the baseball player’s union. Players probably regret that the Collective Bargaining Agreement is so owner-friendly, particularly when it comes to guaranteed money (which baseball players get, while much of what NFL players earn is not guaranteed, especially after the first year of the contract). 

The NFLPA is being more assertive. The rubber-stamp parliament is gone. It will be interesting to see what happens. 

The NFL has to be careful not to take too hard a line. Aside from Bountygate, all hard-core NFL fans can remember the debacle of the replacement refs. There’s a definite downside to the kind of power Goodell wields. 

I'm a big believer in checks and balances. It's the hallmark of the Constitution. So far it's been missing in the NFL.