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Due Process: A Real Thing

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I may be misreading, but Margaret Hartmann’s tone seems to suggest that she thinks the NFLPA is being disingenuous and shouldn’t be defending Ray Rice:

The NFL Players Association finally filed their appeal of Ray Rice’s indefinite suspension on Tuesday night, but emphasized that they’re only defending a man who knocked out his wife in a elevator because that’s their job. “When we look at facts and reach a determination that there are appropriate grounds to appeal any decision — any disciplinary decision — that is the role of the union, that’s the duty of the union. And we really don’t shy away from that duty at all,” DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, told CBS News. “Public outrage notwithstanding, it’s part of my legal training … to understand that everybody has due process rights.” So please keep directing those angry comments to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, not to the union!

Goodell suspended the Baltimore Ravens running back for two games in July, then admitted he “didn’t get it right” and put him on indefinite suspension after TMZ released video of the incident. The union said it needs to “protect the due process rights of all NFL players,” as this sets a precedent that players can be punished twice for the same incident.

I’m not sure if I’m disagreeing with Hartmann or not, but let me say that the NFLPA is clearly right here. Not only right in the narrow sense that everyone deserves due process and a defense, but right on the merits. The NFL has (rightly or wrongly) set the maximum punishment for a first domestic violence offense at 6 games. Rice’s NFL punishment shouldn’t exceed that. While what Rice did is far, far worse attempts to suspend him for more than that are comparable to MLB’s indefensible season-long suspension of A-Rod. The idea that allegedly lying to Roger Goodell could merit as much or more punishment than the underlying offense of knocking a woman unconscious is farcical on multiple levels, and the potential for abuse is very real. The Ravens can release Rice, of course, but apart from the 6 suspended games at most they should pay him his signing bonus.

The NFL does use due process disingenuously, but it’s a real value. To be clear, what process is due is not necessarily the process that’s due in a criminal trial. In Greg Hardy‘s case, even if his jury trial counts as a de novo hearing under North Carolina law, a conviction in a bench trial is sufficient for the NFL to suspend him. If a player is being suspend with pay, like Adrian Peterson, I think credible allegations are sufficient. But if the NFL wants to suspend players without pay for off-the-field actions, waiting for the legal process to play out is not unreasonable. And the penalties should be specific and preferably collectively bargained.

Sally Jenkins makes good points about the dangers of putting arbitrary discipline powers in the commisioner’s hands.

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