Today, an arbitrator will hear one of two grievances filed by the NFLPA in the wake of the sanctions handed down by the NFL upon players allegedly involved in the Saints bounty program. This particular grievance argues that under the new collective bargaining entered into between the NFLPA and the NFL in August 2011, the NFL agreed to waive all pre-existing claims against players. As such, the NFLPA is arguing that the NFL cannot punish Saints players for their alleged involvement in a bounty program that took place before the signing of the new collective bargaining agreement. The facts related to the program and the associated penalties will largely sway the arbitrator’s decision of whether to rule in favor of the NFLPA’s grievance. However, it is possible that the outcome of the arbitration hearing will weigh more upon the identity of the arbitrator.
The arbitrator hearing this grievance is Shyam Das. While most not heavily involved in the sports or legal worlds were previously unfamiliar with Das, he gained extreme notoriety in recent months when he overturned MLB’s 50 game suspension of National League MVP Ryan Braun. While details of the Braun decision have not been made public, it is believed that Das overturned that suspension due to a chain-of-control issue, wherein Braun’s urine sample was not handled properly per MLB drug testing guidelines.
In the wake of the Braun case, many have questioned whether Das overturned the suspension based upon a mere technicality. However, what is arguably more important to consider in this instance, is the fact that Das was fired by MLB as its arbitrator. While Das was the arbitrator for MLB and the MLBPA, either side may fire him by providing written notice to the other party. In this case, MLB provided written notice of its dismissal of Das last week–merely one week before Das was to hear the NFLPA’s grievance related to the Saints bounty program.
MLB has declined comment as to why it chose to fire Das. However, given the proximity of the firing to the overturning of Braun’s suspension, one could guess that it had to do with MLB’s finding that Das’ ruling on that case was inappropriate. Therefore, the question remains, what effect does Das’ firing have on the NFLPA’s grievance?
In this instance, it is unlikely that Das will make a similarly bold ruling in the NFLPA’s grievance as he did in the Braun hearing. Das, who has an impressive client list is already down one major client this week. Thus, it would be fair to suspect that he will not want to rock the boat again by overturning the Saints’ player’s suspensions in their entirety. Since the grievance he is hearing in this instance essentially asks for the overturning of the players’ suspensions in their entirety, it is unlikely that Das will find in favor of the NFLPA.