The NFL Players Association filed a grievance against the NFL challenging Commissioner Roger Goodell's powers in the New Orleans Saints "bounty" case, a source with knowledge of the situation said Friday.
The NFL suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the 2012 season for his role in the "bounty" scandal.
Three other players -- Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith -- also were suspended. Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) got three games, Hargrove (Green Bay Packers) got eight games, and Smith (still with the Saints) was suspended four games.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello later confirmed the NFLPA filing on Friday.
"Last night, the NFLPA initiated two arbitration proceedings challenging the suspensions," Aiello said in a statement. "The proceedings do not challenge the underlying facts, which were first shared with the union more than two months ago after being obtained from Saints executives, coaches, players, and others. The proceedings also do not challenge the reasonableness of the discipline imposed by the commissioner."
"In one proceeding, the union seeks immunity for the four suspended players, a position it never advanced during months of discussion on this matter. In the other, the union argues that someone other than the commissioner should have imposed the discipline," Aiello continued. "We expect that the arbitrators will 1) reject the union's efforts to protect players from accountability for prohibited and dangerous conduct directed against other players and 2) uphold the disciplinary process that was so carefully negotiated in the Collective Bargaining less than a year ago."
ProPlayerInsiders.com, a licensed partner of NFL Players Inc., a subsidiary of the union, said the grievance was filed with the NFL's vice president of labor arbitration and litigation, Buckley Briggs. A system arbitration also was filed with the system arbitrator, Professor Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. The NFL, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins also are scheduled to have an arbitration hearing Burbank on May 10.
The union's contention is that the suspensions "violated the (league's) duty of fairness to the players". The union states that "the process violated various procedural requirements of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, including limits on Goodell's authority over the matter and failure to disclosure sufficient evidence of the violations".
The union's system arbitration alleges that the authority for punishments for pay-for-performance programs similar to those in the "bounty" case does not rest with Goodell but with the system arbitrator, according to the current collective bargaining agreement.
"(Goodell is) prohibited from punishing NFL players for any aspect of the 'pay-for-performance/bounty' conduct occurring before August 4, 2011," the union said.
Vilma tweeted Friday: "NFL needs to publicly release evidence of players' bounty involvement if it exists."
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