The NFL Players Association plans to call commissioner Roger Goodell as a witness in its appeal of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady's four-game suspension for his alleged involvement in the illegal use of underinflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game -- a move that the union hopes will prompt Goodell to ultimately relinquish his role as the arbitrator.
In a letter sent Thursday to NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent, who handed down Brady's suspension on Monday, NFLPA general counsel Thomas DePaso said the union plans to call Goodell and Vincent as witnesses. DePaso also charged that the NFL violated the collective- bargaining agreement by having Vincent, and not Goodell, issue the discipline.
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"The CBA grants the commissioner -- and only the commissioner -- the authority to impose conduct detrimental discipline on players," DePaso wrote. "You [Vincent] have no authority to impose discipline on Mr. Brady under the CBA, and such discipline must therefore be set aside."
Goodell indicated late Thursday that he will handle Brady's appeal. The union prefers that he appoint an independent arbitrator to oversee the matter. It cited the recent case involving running back Ray Rice, in which Goodell appointed former federal judge Barbara S. Jones to hear Rice's appeal of his indefinite suspension. Jones ruled against the suspension and Rice was reinstated.
DePaso said the union will call Goodell and Vincent as witnesses because of what the NFLPA considers the improper handling of the decision to let Vincent issue the suspension. DePaso said, "You will both be called upon to testify about, among other things, the circumstances surrounding the purported delegation of disciplinary authority from Commissioner Goodell to you in this matter and the factual basis for that purported delegation."
DePaso also said both men will be asked about when they became aware of the Colts' allegation about the Patriots' previous use of underinflated footballs and whether there "may have been a 'sting operation' to try to implicate the Patriots and Mr. Brady. The latter conduct would present an additional ground for setting aside the discipline imposed."
According to a 243-page report from attorney Ted Wells, the Colts informed the NFL the day before the AFC title game about their concerns that the Patriots would use underinflated footballs. Vincent was at the game and participated in the inspection of the footballs, which were deemed underinflated according to NFL standards.
DePaso suggested that Vincent's involvement should preclude him from handing down any discipline. "Your personal involvement in the game-day events surrounding this matter render you inherently biased in any disciplinary determination,' " DePaso wrote.
DePaso also said the Wells report contained "insufficient evidence to find that Mr. Brady committed any violation of NFL rules" and that "no player in the history of the NFL has ever received anything approaching this level of discipline for similar behavior."