AP source: Union could challenge Tagliabue role

The NFL players’ union might challenge former Commissioner Paul

Tagliabue replacing Roger Goodell as the appeals officer in the

Saints’ bounties case.

The players association has concerns about ”ethical and legal

issues,” a person familiar with the matter told The Associated

Press on Sunday. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because

the union has not made any public statements.

The NFL had no comment.

Tagliabue is scheduled to hear the appeals of Jonathan Vilma,

Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove on Oct. 30. He was

appointed Friday by Goodell, his successor as commissioner.

Tagliabue works for the law firm that is defending the league in

U.S. District Court in Louisiana in the bounties case. The NFLPA

believes that’s a conflict of interest. The union also might

contend that such ”pay-for programs” existed when Tagliabue was

commissioner, with his knowledge.

The NFL and the union discussed the possibility that Tagliabue

would step in if Goodell recused himself from hearing the appeals,

and the union also suggested ”several outsiders” who could be

used in place of Goodell, the person said.

Vilma was suspended for the 2012 season and Smith was banned

four games for his role in the bounties program. Fujita, now with

the Browns, was barred three games, since reduced to one. Hargrove

is a free agent whose suspension was reduced from eight games to

seven.

”I have held two hearings to date and have modified the

discipline in several respects based on my recent meetings with the

players,” Goodell said Friday. ”I will have no role in the

upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue’s decisions.”

Tagliabue was NFL commissioner from 1989-2006. For part of that

time, Goodell was the league’s general counsel.

The collective bargaining agreement with the union that was

reached to end the lockout in August 2011 gave Goodell exclusive

authority to hear appeals of discipline for conduct detrimental or

to appoint someone to hear and decide an appeal. Goodell

periodically has appointed others to hear appeals for club fines,

personal conduct suspensions and for matters concerning drug and

steroid policy.

Goodell handed down the suspensions in May and they took effect

in July after initial appeals were rejected by Goodell. Those

suspensions lasted through training camp before being vacated by a

three-member appeals panel that instructed Goodell to start the

disciplinary process again and clarify his reasons for suspending

the players.

The suspensions were reissued by the NFL last week and promptly

appealed by all four players. None of the suspensions is currently

in effect because they were appealed within the framework of the

NFL’s labor agreement.

But all four players have asked U.S. District Judge Ginger

Berrigan to throw out Goodell’s disciplinary rulings on the grounds

he has demonstrated bias against the players in his handling of the

bounty investigation. The players say Goodell violated due

process.

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