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Union still could sue to challenge Goodell’s refusal to recuse

Earlier this week, Commissioner Roger Goodell informed the NFL Players Association that he won’t be stepping aside from the appeal of Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game suspension. The NFLPA has yet to take legal action to force Goodell to assign the case to a neutral arbitrator.

Per a source with knowledge of the situation, it’s still possible that a pre-emptive challenge will be made.

With each passing day, however, it’s becoming less and less likely that the NFLPA will force the issue before Goodell conducts the hearing and issues a ruling. The longer the union waits, the greater the chance that an attack on Goodell’s refusal to remove himself from the appeal will delay the hearing, which currently is set for June 23 and, if necessary, June 25. If the hearing is delayed, the ruling will be delayed. And, eventually, there won’t be enough time to challenge a final ruling from Goodell before the season starts, if a legal challenge to bounce Goodell fails.

It currently seems more likely (or perhaps more probable than not) that the union will go through the appeal process, wait for a ruling, and then go to court if need be to challenge Goodell’s decision. After all, there’s a chance that the combination of Brady belatedly complying with the request for text messages and other contents of his phone and Goodell opting to disregard the findings of Ted Wells will result in a reduction of the suspension from four games to zero.

“I have publicly expressed my appreciation to Mr. Wells and his colleagues for their thorough and independent work,” Goodell told the union. “But that does not mean that I am wedded to their conclusions or to their assessment of the facts. Nor does it mean that, after considering the evidence and argument presented during the appeal, I may not reach a different conclusion about Mr. Brady’s conduct or the discipline imposed.”

It sounds good in theory, but as a practical matter how could Goodell scrap the work of the man Goodell hand picked to handle the investigation? If Goodell determines, after paying millions to Wells to investigate the situation, that Wells got it wrong, didn’t Goodell get it wrong by hiring Wells in the first place?

At a time when the NFL seems to place P.R. considerations at the top of the list of factors to be considered when making decisions on player discipline, a decision to ignore the conclusions of the Wells report would create very bad P.R. for the Commissioner, both internally and externally.

On a brighter note, it would tend to calm down the Patriots fans who would like to hang him in effigy. Or in Boston.