Ask any sports fan who the most ruthless, iron-fisted commissioner in pro sports is today, and 99% of them will say it’s the NFL’s Roger Goodell. The other 1% will respond with Kenesaw Mountain Landis; though Landis was the most prodigious wielder of the banhammer that baseball has ever seen (and that’s even without the “Black Sox”), he also died 64 years ago. Those people are over 90 years old and just plain senile.
One attorney thinks Goodell’s powers are excessive, however, and he’s looking to put the whole damned system on trial. David Cornwell, a sports attorney who just so happens to be a finalist to replace Gene Upshaw as the NFLPA’s executive director, wants to appoint an independent arbitrator to review decisions made by the commissioner. Oh, this won’t end well.
Cornwell, one of four finalists in the running to replace the late Gene Upshaw as the NFL Players Association’s executive director, described the league’s current disciplinary policy as being “draconian” and requiring independent oversight.
“The notion that public relations drives or justifies draconian and unfair disciplinary actions is simply misplaced and we will no longer accept it,” Cornwell told The Associated Press. “We have the legal right to negotiate these policies … and we are going to exercise that right to get independent review of the commissioner’s decisions.”
If Cornwell’s name sounds familiar, you might remember him as the guy who blocked the NFL from suspending the players who tested positive for banned substances. Cornwell had argued that the NFL knew the supplements the players were taking contained unlisted, illegal substances, but never bothered to, y’know, warn anyone until it was suspendin’ time. If you think there’s something a bit unfair about that, yes, a judge agreed, but may we remind you: Roger Goodell.
The most interesting aspect of this theoretical new position is the proposed authority to overturn an unfair ruling by the commissioner, effectively subverting his power as the ultimate authority of the league. Granted, the authority to be unfair isn’t something the commissioner should be particularly vocal about maintaining, per se, but it’s still a reduction of power all the same, and that doesn’t usually happen voluntarily. And by “usually” we mean “ever.”
It’ll be interesting to see if the idea nets Cornwell the NFLPA head gig, or whether it’s implemented even without Cornwell’s appointment. It’s a cool idea, especially in a litigious society like ours, but part of the job of commissioner is to look at individual and unique situations and assign discipline accordingly. Surely, Goodell could argue, there’s no real precedent for situations like Chris Henry or “Pacman” Jones; if he and the independent arbitrator merely disagree on the appropriate punishment, why would the arbitrator get to overturn the opinion of the head of the league?
Either way, it’d be funny to watch Goodell resolve the conflict without just suspending the arbitrator and fining him $50,000.