TO’s Grievance Arbitration

(Crossposted at Market Power)

I was critical of Terrell Owens’ public disgracing of teammates and supported the Eagles’ decision to suspend him. But because the Eagles are bound by the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) hammered out by the players’ association, the Eagles must hand out discipline in accordance with the CBA.

An arbitrator, Richard Bloch, has ruled in favor of the Philadelphia Eagles in the case. TO, as you may remember, was suspended for four games for “conduct detrimental to the team:” publicly criticizing his quarterback, Donovan McNabb, among other things. The NFL’s CBA describes the maximum discipline teams can carry out. Here is a passage from Article VIII, the section on club discipline, of the NFL CBA:

Conduct detrimental to Club—maximum fine of an amount equal to one week’s salary and/or suspension without pay for a period not to exceed four (4) weeks.

As I understand it, the Eagles suspended Owens without pay for 4 weeks and have said they will neither practice nor play him for the rest of the season, although he will receive his paycheck. In other words, they will deactivate him. Bloch, in his decision, wrote that in this particular case.

“The four-week suspension was for just cause,” Bloch wrote in his decision. “Additionally, there was no inherent violation of the labor agreement in the club’s decision to pay Owens but not practice or play him due to the nature of the player’s conduct and its destructive and continuing threat to the team.”

Players’ union officials see it differently:

“I think the arbitrator chose to accept not only the Eagles’ version of the evidence, but I think he went even further and pieced the evidence together in a way that it really didn’t evolve,” (NFL Players’ Association General Counsel Richard) Berthelsen said in a telephone interview. “He describes all of the events leading up to the suspension, but ignored the fact that Terrell was a model citizen from the week he was gone in training camp until Nov. 3. If you view, as [Bloch] did, the one week [Reid] sent [Owens] home as a form of discipline, that wiped out all prior conduct.”

The NFLPA also views the fact that Owens will not be allowed back with the Eagles as additional punishment to the four-game suspension, which violates the league’s collective-bargaining agreement.

… Owens is no longer an Eagle “because Andy Reid doesn’t want him to be,” Berthelsen said, “and the arbitrator saw that as being in the coach’s discretion. We see it as discipline.”

But in cases that could go either way, the presentation of a case by either side can make a difference:

A source with knowledge of the hearing said Owens’ case was weak. One example was his claim that the Eagles showed no class when they failed to honor him for his 100th receiving touchdown in the Oct. 23 game against San Diego. The Eagles showed Bloch a video of the team’s Sept. 25 game against Oakland when Owens scored his 100th career touchdown overall. Bloch watched a tribute the Eagles gave Owens that day at Lincoln Financial Field, ending with the receiver tipping his cap to the crowd.

This particular case involved an area in the CBA that was open to some interpretation and, in such cases, the disputants’ presentations go a long way in helping the arbitrator decide the case. Owens’ case was weak and the Eagles effectively made their case. TO, while possibly the most-talented wide receiver in the league, became a huge distraction.

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Author: Phil Miller

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