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Abstract

The power of professional sports commissioners to determine what is in the “best interests” of their respective sport is a significant aspect of sports today, and can be traced back to 1921, when the federal courts authorized then-Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to act with a broad range of discretion in protecting the “best interests” of baseball. This precedent set in motion a long history of commissioners using the “best interests” of the game power to accomplish various goals, and most recently has been used to discipline players for alleged misconduct. The Commissioner of the National Football League, Roger Goodell, has recently been criticized both for using this power to impose initial discipline, and also for using his power under Article XLVI of the NFL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement to oversee appeals for punishment that he personally issues. This Note explores the power allotted to the NFL’s Commissioner under the League’s Constitution and Bylaws, the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, and the NFL’s Personal Conduct Policy. It also examines the NFL Commissioner’s power in hearing an appeal made by a player for any punishment that is imposed on him. In order to fully understand the power conferred on the NFL’s Commissioner, this Note compares the power of the NFL’s Commissioner to the powers of the Commissioners of Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association. Additionally, this Note discusses the disciplinary power afforded to commissioners in non-sports settings, such as the New York City Police Department and management at Ford Motor Company, relative to the NFL Commissioner’s disciplinary power. Ultimately, this Note proposes that the NFL Commissioner retains his current power to impose initial discipline, albeit with additional due process rights provided to the players, such as an opportunity to be heard. It then proposes to reconfigure the players’ appeal rights, providing the players with an impartial, three-panel arbitration, which is agreed upon by both the NFL Management Council and the NFL Players’ Association.

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