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NFLPA president can’t see giving Goodell final say on discipline again

At the end of the 2011 lockout, the NFL Players Association capitulated to a key demand from the owners: Giving the commissioner final say over player discipline under the personal-conduct policy.

In hindsight, the players’ union thinks that was a mistake.

That’s the word from NFLPA President Eric Winston, who told the Washington Post that any future Collective Bargaining Agreement would have to entail handing appeals over to a neutral third party, rather than letting the commissioner hear appeals.

“It would be hard to imagine any new deal if there’s not a change,” Winston said. “I can’t imagine taking a new deal back to the players and say personal conduct isn’t going to change.”

The current CBA runs through the 2020 season, so the players may be stuck with Roger Goodell as judge, jury and executioner for six more years. But Winston says that’s not what’s best for the players, or the league.

“We’re not against punishment where it’s deserved,” Winston said. “I’m not against setting boundaries. [But] there has to be a neutral arbitrator. You can’t tell me that keeping Roger Goodell in the position he’s in as arbitrator is going to win the confidence of the players. That’s long gone. You can’t go back and fix what’s happened.”

The question, however, is how hard the players will be willing to fight over this issue on the next CBA. If the owners insist that the commissioner has to have final say over discipline, and the owners threaten to cancel part or even all of the 2021 season unless the players back down, would the players be willing to miss all those paychecks in order to stand their ground?

Football fans hope it doesn’t come to that. But given how little trust there is between the players and the commissioner now, it wouldn’t be surprising if there’s another labor stoppage in 2021, and it wouldn’t be surprising if the league’s handling of player discipline is the final sticking point.