Roger Goodell Open to Changing His Role in NFL Punishment Process

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NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is open to changing his role in how the league disciplines its players, he told the “Mike & Mike” show on ESPN2 on Tuesday.

In his first public remarks since the NFL lost in federal court in the Tom Brady “Deflategate” case, Goodell said that he is open to changes in the player disciplinary process, with the potential of setting up a panel to handle punishment of players.

The process has become “extremely time-consuming,” he said. “I have to be focused on a variety of other issues, and that’s what I’ve discussed with many of the owners over the last couple years.”

Goodell said he would not be at the NFL regular-season opener Thursday night, which has the Super Bowl-champion New England Patriots hosting the Pittsburgh Steelers. He said he didn’t want to be a distraction. Instead, Goodell said he’ll be attending the Green Bay Packers-Chicago Bears game in Chicago on Sunday.

“The focus should be on football,” Goodell said. “It should be a great night on Thursday night. I certainly don’t want to be a distraction to that, but I think everyone wants to get back to football, and certainly I do.”

Goodell said that the NFL’s litigation team will continue the appeals process in the Brady case. Last week, U.S. District Judge Richard Berman vacated the four-game suspension that the NFL imposed on the New England Patriots quarterback in the “Deflategate” scandal.

Goodell has not had a good track record against the NFL Players Association lately.

In February, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the suspension of Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. Peterson, who pleaded no contest in the whipping of his child, had been suspended by the NFL for the last six games of the 2014 season and through at least April 15. The NFL appealed Doty’s ruling.

The punishment in the Ray Rice case was overturned by Barbara S. Jones, who was a neutrally appointed arbitrator and former federal judge. Rice had been suspended indefinitely by the NFL for violating the personal conduct policy when he punched his then-fiancee, now wife, in an elevator at a New Jersey casino.

In the New Orleans Saints “Bountygate” case in 2012, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue ruled in favor of the players who had been suspended, saying Goodell and the league failed to follow proper procedure in discipline. The NFL had said from 2009 to 2011, Saints players “pledged significant amounts of their own money toward bounties” for injuring or knocking opposing players out of the game. That payout amount doubled and tripled for playoff games, the league said.

Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season, while the NFL levied an indefinite suspension on former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who was accused of masterminding the bonus program. Four players were suspended, although some of their terms were reduced and some were cleared. In his ruling, Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of the players.

And the NFL may not be done seeing the inside of federal courtrooms. According to ESPN, Dallas Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy planned to consult with the NFL Players Association about the possibility of going to court to seek a reduction in his four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Hardy was initially convicted of domestic abuse in 2014, but that conviction was later overturned on appeal when the alleged victim did not show up to court. In July, Hardy’s suspension was reduced from 10 games to four by arbitrator Harold Henderson.

“We need to sit down and figure out how do we get to a better position on our discipline procedures,” Goodell said. “Whether it’s the personal conduct policy, or whether it’s integrity of the game policy, those things have to be determined by us and collective bargaining agreement. They have been effectively done in the past ,and they should be going forward.”

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