Is Commissioner Roger Goodell willing to suspend a player for offenses that occurred during the lockout, which began March 10? This is one of the many legal controversies that have cropped up since the NFL and NFL Players' Association came to terms on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement this month.
Kenny Britt has had a slew of run-ins with the law in his short NFL career, including a January 2010 arrest for failing to pay outstanding traffic warrants, a February 2011 hearing on a misdemeanor charge of theft by deception and was even questioned in as part of an assault claim in a bar fight in October 2010 in Nashville. Most recently on May 11, Britt was arrested and charged with eluding a police officer, lying to an officer/hindering apprehension and obstruction governmental function after Britt and a friend were allegedly clocked speeding in Bayonne, NJ. When an officer attempted to pull them over, the car allegedly sped up and began to weave in and out of highway traffic, eventually exiting the highway where Britt and his friend walked away from the parked vehicle. When the officer ordered them to stop for questioning, Britt denied being in the vehicle, but would later admit to being the passenger after further questioning. Eluding an officer is a third-degree felony in New Jersey, while the other two charges are both classified as misdemeanors.
Under the terms of both the old and new CBA, Commissioner Goodell holds the ultimate trump card: the ability to suspend NFL players under the Personal Conduct Policy for "conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the national Football League." Goodell has set a strong precedent that criminal conduct, such as Britt?s, falls outside the permissible scope of acceptable player conduct and has not hesitated to hand out suspensions of varying lengths for similar actions. For example, former Bengals WR Chris Henry was arrested five times in three states between 2005 and 2008 and was suspended by Goodell for the first eight games of the 2007 season. Britt's similar history of arrests would likely warrant a suspension of at least a few games after his latest incident.
The issue though is whether Goodell is willing to suspend a player for conduct that occurred while players were locked out. Courts have held that normal conditions of employment do not hold true when an employer decides to lock out his employees. For example, employers have no duty to pay employees during the term of the lockout. However, the inverse relationship is true: employees are no longer bound by the terms of the expired collective bargaining agreement. According to Michael McCann, director of the Sports Law Institute at Vermont Law School, players should have a strong case against the league should Goodell choose to fine or suspend players for violations committed during the lockout. "They've [the NFL] frozen the employment of NFL players," said McCann. "So, the players will likely say, 'If we're not getting paid, then we're not obligated to follow our contracts.'" By preventing players from obtaining employee benefits, wages, the players are under no duty to satisfy employment obligations.
Therefore, I have my doubts as to whether the league would win a court appeal of any punishments it chooses to hand out should the newly re-formed NFLPA challenge them. If you're barring players from doing their job, and refusing to pay them, why should the players be forced to follow the league's vague rules of conduct? Britt, who met with Goodell earlier this week, has a good chance of avoiding suspension based on what is essentially a technicality. However, he would be wise to avoid any more legal trouble as I am certain Goodell would bring a swift and heavy punishment for any future transgressions.