The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) is suing the NFL on behalf of Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, three of the four players who have been suspended for the 2012 season by the league for their role in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
According to the Associated Press, the NFLPA filed its lawsuit on July 5 in federal court in New Orleans, calling league Commissioner Roger Goodell “incurably and evidently biased.”
The NFLPA’s suit said Goodell suspended the players –defensive ends Smith and Hargrove and linebacker Fujita–without presenting them with access to evidence that supports his decision that they participated in a program that improperly paid cash bonuses to players for injuring opponents.
The AP said the suit also states that the commissioner “launched a public campaign defending the punishments he intended to arbitrate.”
Smith, Fujita and Hargrove all claim that they did not participate in such a bounty program and that the league has inaccurately mischaracterized what was an informal program that rewarded teammates for making big hits, sacks, interceptions, forced fumbles , and other plays that impact the game against opponents.
The fourth suspended player, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, has filed a separate defamation suit against Goodell, claiming the commissioner suspended him without merit while making false public comments that have damaged the player’s image.
Goodell, however, filed a motion to dismiss the defamation claims, citing that the claims conflict with the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement signed last summer that restricts players from suing the league.
Vilma’s attorney, Peter Ginsburg, told the AP that the defamation suit focuses “exclusively on statements Mr. Goodell has made publicly and outside the confines of the CBA.”
“Mr. Goodell cannot escape responsibility for those public statements based on an argument that statements in a different forum and in a different context might have avoided judicial scrutiny,” Ginsberg told the AP. “Having the title of ‘Commissioner’ does not provide Mr. Goodell with a license to make the accusations and allegations he has made against Jonathan in public forums without facing the same scrutiny as other citizens.”
Reports suggest that Goodell’s suspensions are part of the NFL’s plan to appear strict on player-safety issues to take attention away from several lawsuits filed against the league by former players who claimed the NFL failed to properly inform players of the long-term dangers of physical play.
According to reports, a group of 75 former players filed a law suit against the league in 2011, claiming the league was aware for more than 90 years of the effects that concussions have on players. More than 12 ex-players filed similar law suits in 2012, citing the same reason.
“Wanting their players on the field instead of training tables, and in an attempt to protect a multibillion dollar business, the NFL has purposefully attempted to obfuscate the issue and has repeatedly refuted the connection between concussions and brain injury to the disgust of Congress, which has blasted the NFL’s handling of the issue on multiple occasions,” the lawsuit says, according to AP.