New Orleans defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove tries to fire up his teammates… (Dave Martin / Associated…)
The NFL Players Assn. is continuing its fight on behalf of two current and two former New Orleans Saints players suspended by the league, challenging NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's authority to sanction them.
The suspensions are for the players' involvement in the Saints' bounty scandal. Linebacker and team captain Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the entire 2012 season, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove for eight games, defensive end Will Smith for four, and linebacker Scott Fujita three. Hargrove now plays for Green Bay, and Fujita for Cleveland.
The union has filed a grievance against the NFL asserting that under the terms of the new collective bargaining agreement, conduct that occurred before the pact was signed — on Aug. 4, 2011 — is not subject to discipline by the league.
Further, the grievance states that only the CBA "system arbitrator," Stephen Burbank, should be able to punish players, not Goodell.
The union also argues that appeals should not be handled by Goodell, but by Art Shell and Ted Cottrell, the tandem jointly appointed by the league and union to judge appeals of punishments for "conduct on the playing field with respect to an opposing player or players."
The NFL, in turn, issued a release pointing out that the NFLPA does not challenge "the underlying facts, which were first shared with the union more than two months ago after being obtained from Saints executives, coaches, players, and others," nor does the union challenge the "reasonableness" of the discipline imposed on the players.
Said league spokesman Greg Aiello: "We expect that the arbitrators will, one, reject the union's efforts to protect players from accountability for prohibited and dangerous conduct directed against other players and, two, uphold the disciplinary process that was so carefully negotiated in the Collective Bargaining less than a year ago."
The union says it has not received specific evidence from the league that implicates any of the four players. However, the NFL says it has a signed, sworn statement from Hargrove admitting to his role in the bounty program. According to ProFootballTalk.com, it was the NFLPA that submitted Hargrove's statement.