National Football League and the National Football League Player’s Union are close to a deal wherein Commissioner Roger Goodall could give up power over off-the-field player discipline, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith. However, significant obstacles remain and the deal could still fall apart.

“We looked at the league’s proposal for neutral arbitration. There is a common ground for us to get something done,” Smith told the Journal. One of the concepts under discussion is to have three neutral arbitrators serving as hearing officers, the newspaper said. The arbitrators would be lawyers or former judges and would have some football background. The selection procedure for the arbitrators is still not clear.

This would be close to a three-panel administrative law court wherein witnesses are called, and there is an adversarial questioning of the witnesses.  This aspect of discipline has been sorely overlooked because reports are generated by the NFL but no one has the ability to question the witnesses cited in the report.  If anyone has been in a courtroom–the cross-examination of a witness can reveal more of the facts and motivations than a simple statement of fact in a report.  Think of these reports as the initial case put together by police detectives without the court system to verify or test the detective’s theory. No one would want to see anyone convicted on the basis of a detective’s theory with no alternate theory of the incident or without complete facts. A report at this stage is incomplete and necessarily flawed because all of the facts are not brought to bear on the incident nor are any incorrect facts removed.  Until a report can be held to scrutiny, it remains conjecture.

Additionally, the NFL cannot be pleased with the cost of these reports which are routinely shredded in arbitration hearings.

This process is long-over due for discipline in the league, and in my opinion, the owners are tired of being embarrassed in public and in court by their employee, Goodell.

Jonathan Vilma

It is sincerely hoped Jonathan Vilma’s role in the challenging the discipline process is remembered. He was willing to bring these issues to light and the NFL to court over a flawed disciplinary system.