08 / 24 / 2016

Deflategate and Collective Bargaining Agreements

tom_brady_new_england_patriots.jpg

On July 13, 2016, the Second Circuit denied the request by the NFL Players Association and Tom Brady, quarterback for the New England Patriots, for a rehearing on their case regarding Brady’s four-game suspension by the NFL as punishment for allegedly deflating footballs during a playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts during the AFC Championship Game in January 2015.

NFL union vs. arbitrator

The National Football League Players Association (NFLPA) is the union for professional football players in the NFL. The NFLPA was established in 1956 and aims to ensure “proper recognition and representation of players’ interests” regarding wages, hours, working conditions, retirement and insurance benefits, among other goals. The NFLPA and Brady requested that the Second Circuit reconsider their 2-1 panel ruling that upheld Brady’s punishment, but the panel had this to say in response:

The panel that determined the appeal has considered the request for panel rehearing, and the active members of the court have considered the request for rehearing en banc.  It is hereby ordered that the petition is denied.

Initially, the NFLPA and Brady attempted to overturn a decision by Commissioner Roger Goodell, who sat as an arbitrator in an internal league appeal. The NFLPA and Brady argued that the arbitrator’s decision to uphold Brady’s punishment undermined “the rights and expectations of parties to collective bargaining agreements, and runs roughshod over the rule of law.”

Federal court review of arbitration awards

The Second Circuit 2-1 majority found Commissioner Goodell properly exercised his authority under the NFLPA’s collective bargaining agreement to hear disciplinary matters “and that his decision was within the bounds of his discretion as an arbitrator, particularly given the deferential standard for federal court review of arbitration awards.”

Brady has a few options at this point:

  1. Brady can attempt to obtain a stay from the Second Circuit’s 2-1 ruling.
  2. Brady can appeal to the United States Supreme Court.
  3. Brady can sit out while the rest of the Patriots play their first four games against the Arizona Cardinals, Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills and the Houston Texans this upcoming season.

If you would like to read the opinion in greater detail, the case name is National Football League Management Council v. National Football League Players Association, case numbers 15-2801 and 15-3228, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

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