Look, even if Roger Goodell loses his “Bounty” case, he still wins.
If you believe the news accounts concerning the hearing before Federal Judge Berrigan last Friday, she could barely restrain herself from ruling in favor of the Saints’ Vilma. Judge Berrigan knows her job, and knows the basic principle she needs to respect: it’s called Exhaustion of Remedies. There’s someone else (an Arbitration Panel) that the parties have previously agreed must first hear these issues. Federal Courts don’t just love to avoid controversies which they can efficiently avoid — sometimes they must avoid them – and this is one of those times.
Don’t be fooled by the judge’s comments, though, and the suggestion that Goodell has badly exceeded his authority. Yes, I’m sure Roger Goodell doesn’t like to lose. But here’s the rub: even if he loses on this “Bounty” issue, and the Arbitrators or the courts lift the suspensions of the Saints Four, letting them immediately back onto the field, Goodell still wins. Here’s why.
Goodell and his lawyers full-well recognized, when they first imposed the sanctions, that they were “pushing the envelope,” and that Goodell most likely would be overstepping his bounds. But for Goodell and the NFL — facing some not just sizeable — but staggering – short-an-long-term potential liabilities associated with the thousands of concussion civil actions now pending — any such Goodell “overstepping” as regards the Saints Bounty case is excellent evidence to be used in the Concussion litigation to support the league’s expected position that it has done — and continues to do – everything humanly possible, consistent with the state of the medical arts — to police unsafe practices and to promote safe practices. Goodell’s Bounty sanctions, then – even if reversed by Arbitrators or Judge Berrigan –are a lovely little vignette to be broadly broadcast to a Concussion jury, with the NFL’s defense attorneys first exclaiming: “Look how aggressively and seriously we worship and enforce the notion of ‘Player Safety’ — yet our enforcement as regards Bounty-related behaviors were challenged, and reversed, by the very union which represents many of these concussion-injury plaintiffs!”
And then exclaiming: “We can’t enforce Player Safety the way we really want to – and the way we should – because the Players drag their feet!
Goodell’s view is that any ostensible “negative” publicity generated by some legal reversal of his Bounty sanctions is small beer when compared to the massive potential liabilities being described for Goodell right now by his Loss Control and Legal teams.