Thursday, November 13, 2014

Peterson Has Law on His Side, But Does He Have the Arbitrator?

The appointment of Shyam Das as arbitrator in Adrian Peterson's grievance filing with the NFL comes with mixed news for Peterson and those who hope for Peterson to return to the field this season.  Das, a former Major League Arbitrator, is regarded as a defender of individual rights and stickler for procedure.  That could be good or bad for Peterson.

As MLB arbitrator in 2012, Das overturned MLB's suspension of Milwaukee Brewer outfielder, Ryan Braun, as a result of MLB's failure to abide by the league's collectively bargained chain-of-custody protocol for handling urine samples designated for drug testing.  Das ruled that MLB's failure strictly to abide by its chain-of-custody protocol required negation of Braun's suspension.  Braun was delighted. MLB was furious.  Das was dismissed from his post.

Das has also handled arbitration for the NFL, recently upholding NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's punishment of the New Orleans Saints players involved in Bountygate.  Das' Bountygate decision can be read one of two ways.  The first is that Das felt compelled by the evidence to support Goodell's suspension.  Given the mostly circumstantial evidence, this is probably not the full story--particularly for someone who undoubtedly found himself needing to get back into the good graces of at least one golden goose.  The second possibility is that Das considered the evidence and weighed that along with the interests of players purportedly hurt by those accused of Bountygate and erred on the side of protection.

Neither rationale is a particularly good omen for Peterson.  The first suggests Das has decided that his interests are now best met by acquiescing to the league for whom he works.  He did not do that at the end of his run with MLB and that cost him.  The second suggests that Das will punish those who do harm to others.  That might suggest that Das will defer to the NFL's request that it deliberate longer on Peterson's return.

What weighs most strongly in favor of Das ruling for a quicker return for Peterson, however, is the fact that Das has shown a penchant for upholding law.  Of particular interest in the Peterson case is Das' concern that MLB failed to follow protocol in the Braun case and that that technicality was sufficient justification to overturn Braun's suspension.

Though different in kind, Peterson's argument is similar in form to that raised by Braun.  Like Braun, Peterson is arguing that his league is not adhering to clear commitments that it made under the CBA.  Peterson has additional ammunition in that the NFL appears to want all of the benefits of a face-saving deal to which Peterson acquiesced, without having to live up to its apparent deal to return Peterson to active status upon conclusion of his legal case in Texas.

Given his track record--and failing the revelation of prior offenses in Peterson's substance-abuse history with the league, it appears likely that Das will rule in favor of Peterson's immediate reinstatement, likely leaving the door open for the league to assess a fine, without the right further to suspend for his offense.

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