I'm no lawyer, but if there is one aspect from NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's severe Bountygate penalties that has clearly shown needs improvement, it is that a stronger appeals process on behalf of the accused should be implemented.
Actually, any appeals process would be an improvement, because right now it is virtually non-existent. The structure of the NFL's current system of justice is obviously skewed in favor of the prosecutor.
More after the jump...
As commissioner of the National Football League, Goodell has been given the ultimate level of authority, fulfilling the role of judge, jury and prosecutor. Even the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court does not have as much power as Goodell.
The Saints can still appeal the penalties that have been imposed upon them, but it would go back to Goodell, so what's the point? Who Dat Nation may believe the Saints are guided by divine inspiration, but I just don't have faith that an Angel of Mercy with Fleur De Lis wings will appear to Goodell in a dream, and he will have a sudden change of heart.
Regardless, if you agree or disagree with Goodell's decision, he is just doing what he is paid to do. It is the 31 NFL team owners, plus apparently the whole town of Green Bay, that has given him this supreme level of power.
The owners should take back some of the responsibility and have the final say on what consequences the Saints must face for the bountygate allegations brought against them. After all, Goodell works for the owners, and it is definitely an unusual circumstance when an employee has the right to discipline his employer so severely.
Unfortunately for the Saints, I doubt this type of rule change will happen in the near future. It would be ideal if during the upcoming NFL owners meeting, they could take a vote between the punishment Goodell has imposed or a lighter set of penalties that Tom Benson would propose.
In the absence of such a vote, the owners should still address the issue of becoming the final authority on such penalties affecting coaches and management, because what has happened to the Saints could happen to their teams as well. Alleged criminals can appeal to their State or the US Supreme Court to hear their case if convicted by lower courts. The NFL owners should put a similar process in place for what is already a very physical game.
Ironically, the NFL does have an equitable appeals system in place to address questionable calls by the referees during the course of a game. The two challenge flags coaches are given at the start of the game gives them the opportunity to have disputed calls be reviewed by instant replay. If they are successful in getting both calls overturned they are then given a third flag, and if unsuccessful they lose a flag.
It is sometimes argued that the Challenge Rule slows down the pace of a game, and cuts into the broadcast time of the following scheduled televised game. However, I believe the Challenge Rule is very effective in helping to ensure that a game is called fairly. This rule acknowledges the fact that the referees are only human, and mistakes can be easily made when faced with the challenge (editor's note: pun intended, or not?...you make the call) of having to make close calls immediately when they happen.
Like the game officials that work under him, Goodell is also only human and is often required to make tough calls. When Sean Payton disagrees or is unsure with a call made by a referee, he has two chances to throw the challenge flag and have the play reviewed. Likewise, Payton should also have the right to throw the challenge flag and appeal Roger Goodell's decision to ban him from the NFL for a year.
NFL owners: you should be the ultimate authority on deciding whether or not Payton deserves to be banned for a full year. Are you listening?