This week, the NFL and the NFL Players Association met to talk about Commissioner Roger Goodell's role in player discipline. Though Goodell is no longer involved in discipline for on-field infractions, he still plays a prominent role in the discipline of players for off-field personal conduct matters.
In recent years, Goodell has seen his authority challenged by neutral arbitrators and even federal court. Missouri successfully challenged Goodell's role as a neutral arbitrator in resolving disputes involving employees. In other states, however, Goodell still has the authority to serve as an arbitrator that involve appeals of player disciplinary cases. In 2015, a federal court undermined Goodell's authority by vacating the four-game Deflategate suspension of Tom Brady that Goodell had upheld during the appeals process. Other players including Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy, Ray Rice have also successfully challenged league discipline through arbitrators and the courts.
The most recent collective bargaining agreement provided much clearer consequences for substance abuse violations, but consequences for personal conduct violations often seem arbitrary and inconsistent. The current collective bargaining agreement is valid through the 2020 season, so the NFL and the NFLPA have time to hammer out an agreement.
For now, Goodell's role in consequences for on-field infractions and substance abuse violations is limited, a positive change over previous years when discipline was so haphazard that some players, like Pittsburgh Steelers James Harrison, were fined nearly every week, while other players avoided any consequences for similar infractions.
A more standardized, less biased approach to off-field matters will go a long way in restoring the league's credibility. Until then, fans are left wondering how a substance abuse infraction results in a longer suspension than egregious cases of domestic violence.