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Arbitrator rules NFL commissioner has authority to discipline those in bounty case

By Nate Ulrich, Akron Beacon Journal –

AKRON, Ohio — When Browns linebacker Scott Fujita met with reporters two weeks ago after a practice in Berea, Ohio, he acknowledged his fight to have his three-game suspension overturned and his name cleared would be “an uphill battle.”

The hill is even steeper now.

Arbitrator Stephen Burbank ruled Monday that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has the authority to discipline Fujita and others who received punished for their alleged roles in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.

The NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the league challenging Goodell’s jurisdiction to discipline players for what it contends are alleged salary-cap violations. The NFLPA argued that under the collective bargaining agreement Burbank, not Goodell, has the power to punish for the alleged conduct.

Following Burbank’s ruling, the union announced it would appeal the decision.

“Any pay-to-injure program runs counter to the health and safety principles we stand for as players,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “However, none of the players punished in this case have seen a shred of evidence justifying the NFL’s punishment.”

In addition to Fujita being docked three games, Saints defensive end Will Smith has been suspended for four games, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, a former member of the Saints, for eight games.

The outcome of a separate grievance heard by arbitrator Shyam Das is still hanging in the balance. The NFLPA has also argued that Goodell does not have the authority to punish players for conduct occurring before the new collective bargaining agreement was signed last August and that Art Shell or Ted Cottrell, who are jointly appointed by the league and union to review discipline for on-field conduct, should rule on appeals instead of Goodell.

Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09 before signing with the Browns, has reserved the right to appeal his suspension pending the outcome of the union’s grievances. Fujita, a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, has repeatedly denied the league’s accusations that he contributed money to a pool that paid players for intentionally injuring opponents. He did not respond to an email from the Beacon Journal seeking comment on the ruling.

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