Neutral Arbitrator for the Ray Rice Appeal Selected
History is in the making, ladies and gentlemen.
On Thursday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced that former U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of New York and current partner at Zuckerman Spaeder Barbara S. Jones will be the neutral arbitrator to hear Ray Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension from the NFL. Under the collective bargaining agreement, Goodell has authority to hear the appeal himself or to appoint an arbitrator of his choosing, but he wisely consulted with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, and they mutually selected a neutral party to determine whether the suspension should hold. The NFLPA stated when filing the appeal that it "asked that a neutral and jointly selected arbitrator hear the case as the commissioner and his staff will be essential witnesses in the proceeding and thus cannot serve as impartial arbitrators."
Remember, Rice is challenging the second punishment he received from his domestic violence incident. Goodell initially gave him a two-game suspension, but Goodell then said he messed up and announced a policy against domestic violence with harsher penalties. Since tougher policy changes are not retroactive, the increasing penalties did not apply to Rice, that is, until the League interpreted the shocking video surveillance footage as new evidence allowing it to suspend Rice indefinitely.
What does this mean?
To begin, a neutral arbitrator takes the decision out of Goodell's hands, which is in his best interests because the man cannot be further criticized for personally mishandling the case. Moreover, a neutral arbitrator gives Rice the best chance at a fair shot in the NFL disciplinary system because the decision-maker should be clear of any bias or influence.
This is the first time in history that the NFL and NFLPA have agreed to bring in a neutral arbitrator. Both parties have been trading lists of names of potential arbitrators throughout the week, but the fact that both parties agreed to select Jones, and the fact that she accepted, could greatly influence the disciplinary process for similar cases in the future not only in the NFL but also maybe in the way other professional leagues go about their cases. It means that a woman has the power to overrule the man who oversees professional football. It means that a woman will have an authoritative voice on how a predominately male organization addresses domestic violence from this point forward. It means that an attorney with experience presiding over high-profile cases can create consistency in how the League handles its own policies. It means that a former federal judge nominated by a member of the democratic party (then-President Bill Clinton), a party that tends to advocate zealously for individual rights, will be concluding whether Rice was subject to double jeopardy and whether his due process rights were violated by a "lack of a fair and impartial process." So, keep an ear open for the upcoming hearing and, in the long run, whether the NFLPA fights to have a neutral arbitrator included as part of future collective bargaining revisions.
[Thumbnail image source: http://www.zuckerman.com/barbara_jones]