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NFLPA formally requests Goodell recusal in Brady appeal

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The NFL Players Association, which filed an appeal of the league’s four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady for his role in Deflategate, formally requested Tuesday that commissioner Roger Goodell move to recuse himself from the review hearing.

“The NFLPA has formally requested that commissioner Roger Goodell recuse himself as the arbitrator in Tom Brady’s disciplinary appeal. Given a process that has contained procedural violations of our collective bargaining agreement, the commissioner’s role as a central witness in the appeal hearing and his evident partiality with respect to the Wells report, the commissioner must designate a neutral party to serve as an arbitrator in this matter,” the NFLPA said in a statement Tuesday. “The players also believe that the Commissioner’s history of inconsistently issuing discipline against our players makes him ill-suited to hear this appeal in a fair-minded manner. If the NFL believes the Ted Wells report has credibility because it is independent, then the NFL should embrace our request for an independent review.”

Goodell rejected the NFLPA’s request that an independent arbitrator hear the case last week, according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello.

The NFLPA released a letter Friday that general counsel Tom DePaso sent to NFL executive vice president Troy Vincent.

DePaso informed Vincent in the letter that the NFLPA plans to call both Vincent and Goodell to testify in Brady’s appeal hearing regarding “the circumstances surrounding the purported delegation of disciplinary authority.”

Patriots owner Robert Kraft said in his press conference Tuesday in San Francisco at the NFL owners’ meetings that the team would not appeal a $1 million fine and the loss of two draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2015. But Brady’s appeal is moving forward. Because the matter, in Goodell’s words, is about integrity, the commissioner is expected to rule in Brady’s appeal.

Kraft and players, via the NFLPA ratification of the 2011 collective bargaining agreement, stamped approval of Goodell having ultimate power in such instances. As Aiello stated, “in accordance with the process agreed upon with the NFL Players Association in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement,” the jurisdiction is Goodell’s to take or leave by appointing a neutral party.

Brady was suspended for his role as the alleged ringleader of team equipment managers who intentionally lowered the air pressure in footballs. Brady did not fully cooperate with the NFL’s third-party investigation led by Ted Wells, according to a 243-page report outlining the offenses.

In the Wells report released May 6, investigators said it was “more probable than not” that Brady “was at least generally aware” that team employees were instructed to prepare the game balls to his liking. They inflated the footballs below the league minimum of 12.5 pounds per square inch.

In the NFLPA letter sent to Vincent, DePaso outlined several points that will be raised during the process — starting with the argument that Vincent has no authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement and that any attempt by Goodell to delegate the imposition of discipline is a violation of the CBA.

Goodell authorized the resolutions, even though the league said the Brady suspension as well as the discipline imposed on the Patriots organization were decided by Vincent.

“We reached these decisions after extensive discussion with Troy Vincent and many others,” Goodell said in a statement. “We relied on the critical importance of protecting the integrity of the game and thoroughness and independence of the Wells Report.”

DePaso said in the letter that because the NFLPA intends to seek the testimony of Goodell and Vincent, the NFLPA argues “that neither Commissioner Goodell nor anyone with close ties to the NFL can serve as arbitrator in Mr. Brady’s appeal under governing legal standards.”

Goodell is likely to interview Patriots equipment assistant John Jastremski and officials locker room attendant Jim McNally as witnesses and will want to directly hear Brady’s side of the story.

“Given the NFL’s history of inconsistency and arbitrary decisions in disciplinary matters, it is only fair that a neutral arbitrator hear this appeal,” the NFLPA said last week. “If Ted Wells and the NFL believe, as their public comments stated, that the evidence in their report is ‘direct’ and ‘inculpatory,’ then they should be confident enough to present their case before someone who is truly independent.”

The Patriots had until May 21 to file an appeal of their penalties.


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