NFLPA asks Tagliabue to prove his neutrality

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Updated: October 23, 2012

NFLPA Questions Tagliabue’s Neutrality

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The NFL Players Association has sent former commissioner Paul Tagliabue a letter asking him to address potential conflicts of interest he might have as the appeals officer in the Saints’ bounty case.

The union asks Tagliabue in the letter to address its concerns within one day or it will file a formal request that he recuse himself from the case. The letter, reportedly sent Monday, is a precursor to a possible court filing by the NFLPA.

In addition, the (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported Tuesday that Judge Ginger Berrigan from the U.S. District Court in New Orleans has given the NFLPA until 6 p.m. ET Wednesday to file a motion asking Tagliabue to recuse himself from hearing the players’ appeals, scheduled for Oct. 30.

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According to Sports Business Daily, the calendar for the court to hear motions runs through Oct. 29 — therefore creating a scenario where Tagliabue could prepare himself for the players’ appeal, only to be removed by a court ruling before the Oct. 30 hearing .

Sources told ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder the NFLPA will file a motion to have Tagliabue recuse himself by Berrigan’s deadline.

Unless he relents and withdraws, Tagliabue likely will preside at the appeals hearing of Jonathan VilmaWill SmithScott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Oct. 30. But if dissatisfied by the ruling, according to sources, the players would look to Berrigan and hope for a favorable ruling.

Tagliabue was appointed Friday when Roger Goodell, his successor as commissioner, recused himself in the case. And as much as the union respects Tagliabue, it’s not exactly the conflict-free review or appeal of the matter the union had envisioned.

The NFL believes whatever decision Tagliabue makes is final, binding and not subject to appeal. The players’ union, however, is trying to establish a record of its objections in advance of the hearing because of Tagliabue’s apparent conflict of interest.

By sending the letter, the NFLPA is now on the record taking issue with Goodell granting the recusal as the players wanted, because his former boss works at the same law firm representing Goodell in the defamation suit filed against him by Vilma.

The NFLPA also is concerned that Tagliabue served as an adviser to the league after he left his commissioner’s post, which could compromise his neutrality in the bounty hearings.

Vilma is not involved in the NFLPA action because he’s represented by his own lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, who raised these exact questions a few hours after Tagliabue’s appointment.

Saints Bounty Scandal

An NFL investigation found the New Orleans Saints operated a bounty system that rewarded 22 to 27 players for hard hits and for injuring opposing players.
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CBSSports.com, which first reported details of the letter, reported that NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith suggests in the letter that Tagliabue could be a witness in the case rather than hearing the appeals. 

Tagliabue was NFL commissioner from 1989 to 2006.

The collective bargaining agreement with the union that was reached to end the lockout in August 2011 gave Goodell exclusive authority to hear appeals of discipline for conduct detrimental or to appoint someone to hear and decide an appeal. Goodell periodically has appointed others to hear appeals for club fines, personal conduct suspensions and for matters concerning drug and steroid policy.

Goodell handed down the suspensions in May, and they took effect in July after he rejected initial appeals. Those suspensions lasted through training camp before being vacated by a three-member appeals panel that instructed Goodell to start the disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending the players.

The suspensions were reissued by the NFL last week and promptly appealed by all four players. None of the suspensions is in effect because they were appealed within the framework of the NFL’s labor agreement.

But all four players have asked Berrigan to throw out Goodell’s disciplinary rulings on the grounds Goodell has demonstrated bias against the players in his handling of the bounty investigation. The players say Goodell violated due process.

Information from ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder, ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen and The Associated Press was used in this report.

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