The way this offseason is going, the NFL could start its own courtroom drama streaming service, and the cases would get higher ratings than some of the snoozers that show up on Thursday and Monday nights.
Most of the NFL’s current legal drama revolves around—surprise—allegations of racism by team executives and sexual assault by a player, and there were new developments on both fronts today.
First, it was reported that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell won’t be the one to hear the league’s appeal of the six-game suspension for Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson earlier this week. His case appears headed for federal court, since Watson and the NFL Players Association said they would sue the league if it imposed a harsh penalty on him after its investigation of sexual assault allegations against him. On Monday, former federal judge Sue Robinson, a neutral arbiter agreed by the NFLPA and the league, wrote that Watson had committed sexual assault as defined by the league but handed down a suspension far lighter than the minimum one-year bad the NFL had wanted.
Under its collective bargaining agreement with the NFLPA, the league can the appeal that decision, with Goodell or someone he designates in charge of making the final decision. Goodell has instead decided to put the appeal in the hands of Peter C. Harvey, a former New Jersey attorney general, according to multiple reports. In theory, Harvey is more likely to give the NFL what it wants than Robinson because he was appointed by Goodell, while keeping the commish at arms-length from handing out the suspension himself. None of it will matter if (when) Harvey comes back with a longer suspension, assuming Watson and the union follow through with their threat of a lawsuit.
Speaking of federal court, the NFL won a round today in its fight with Brian Flores, the former Miami Dolphins head coach suing the league for racial discrimination. A federal judge in New York today denied Flores’ legal team the right to hunt down more evidence as they fight the league’s request to have his claims heard in arbitration, rather than open court.
The NFL argued back in June that Flores’ lawsuit should be kicked out of federal court because Flores’ employment contract with the Dolphins stipulated any grievance be handled in arbitration. Flores’ legal team says, nah, because the arbiter, again, would be none other than Goodell or a loyalist to him. If you’re sensing a theme—that the NFL values nothing more than control and its ability to hand out justice on its own terms—uh, yeah.
In any event, U.S. District Judge Valerie Caproni told Flores’ team they can’t look for new evidence to present in that claim, but they can still make the argument that Goodell and crew are too biased to give them a fair hearing.
Caproni is now expected to give her next ruling within week.