Sports Law Blog
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Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Can Roger Goodell Keep Michael Vick out of Training Camp?
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has told Michael Vick to not attend the Atlanta Falcons' training camp while the NFL reviews his indictment for allegedly participating in an interstate dog-fighting operation. Goodell cites the league's new personal conduct policy as supplying him with the authority to make such a demand.
As Rick examined in April, the new policy offers little in the way of specificity and much in the way of tough-sounded rhetoric. Many corporate conduct policies do the same, furnishing companies with significant latitude to discipline employees through open-ended, highly-interpretative phraseology.
In terms of the specific language allegedly empowering Goodell, one key phrase is, "Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL will be subject to discipline, even if not criminal in nature." That certainly sounds good, but what does it really mean? As Rick wrote, there will always be inherent concerns with disciplining players in the absence of a conviction:
Under the previous violent crime policy created and administered by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, punishment was triggered only by a conviction or its equivalent, including a plea of no contest or a plea to a lesser charge. That's obviously not the case under the new policy, but the same concerns surrounding disciplinary action before a conviction still exist. League officials seem to have forgotten when they suspended James Lofton for the last game of the season in 1986 because of a rape charge, which then backfired when Lofton was acquitted during the off-season.Bloomberg's Erik Matuszewski and Aaron Kirloff examined this issue as it relates to Michael Vick in an article today. I was interviewed for their story, and I wondered whether the NFLPA--which acquiesced to the new personal conduct policy, although not apparently through formalized collective bargaining--may want to defend Vick's contractual right to attend camp, if for no other reason than to avoid a precedent of players being shut out of work on grounds of an indictment. As I mentioned in the story, "Now we have someone accused of maiming and killing dogs, but let's say there's some less-awful situation in the future?" Not all indictments are the same, of course, and we have examined some of the limitations of an indictment (also examining them is FIU Law Student Adam Wasch in a very good Beacon article), and Rick's reference of James Lofton's suspension and subsequent acquittal is a good one.
Assuming the NFLPA stays on the sideline, will Goodell be able to use this de facto restraining order of Vick to say, in essence, an indictment of a player automatically empowers the Commissioner to prevent a player, for an indefinite period of time, from reporting for work? And is that a good or bad thing when the player's sole right to appeal entails an appeal to the very guy who came up with the penalty--the Commissioner--in a process that could produce documents eligible for subponena in a criminal prosecution?