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Josh Norman appeal will be heard by “Commissioner or his designee”

Cleveland Browns v Washington Redskins

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 2: Cornerback Josh Norman #24 of the Washington Redskins reacts after a play against the Cleveland Browns in the fourth quarter at FedExField on October 2, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)

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Good luck getting that $25,000 fine overturned, Josh Norman.

The Washington cornerback, disciplined for his remarks about field judge Brad Freeman, will have his appeal heard by the “Commissioner or his designee,” according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The November 2 letter to Norman from Dave Gardi explains that “the Commissioner has determined that you have engaged in conduct detrimental to the integrity of, or public confidence in, the game of professional football.” Gardi also writes that the criticism “violates the the League Policies for Players, which states that, ‘public criticism by players . . . of Game Officials or officiating is prohibited and is subject to fines and/or suspensions.’”

The letter warns Norman that “any future violation for conduct detrimental will result in increased disciplinary action,” along with his message: "[W]e encourage you to commit to being a leader by maintaining your professionalism, respect for our officials and the game of football.”

Despite the language of the policy, the NFL previously has said (including last Sunday, after Norman said what he said) that players are fined for criticizing officials only if they question their integrity. That didn’t happen in Norman’s case, but that didn’t stop the Commissioner from implementing the plain language of a rule that, if strictly applied, allows the fine to be imposed.

Since it will be the Commissioner or someone he designates who will hear the appeal, it likely will be hard to get the hearing officer to exonerate Norman based on the reality that the league has said on the record that rule is only invoked if the criticism from a player crosses into suggestions of, for example, rigging the game, betting on the game, or otherwise making bad calls based not on incompetence but corruption. Ultimately, this specific punishment falls squarely into the “we’ll do what we want” bucket, and in this case the Commissioner wanted to fine Norman -- even if other players who have criticized officials haven’t been fined.