Former Criminal Prosecutor to Act as Sports Arbitrator in Rice Arbitration

The Ray Rice saga appears to be nearing its end with a hearing before former Federal Judge Barbara S. Jones, who is serving as an arbitrator to hear the Players Association’s appeal from the indefinite suspension of the running back issued by NFL Commissioner Goodell. The Union has used the appeal as an opportunity to make its case that all NFL disciplinary matters should be reviewable by an arbitrator as is the case in other unionized professional team sports. The statement it issued after the close of testimony extolled the “fair and thorough hearing” Rice had received: “We commend NFL owners and officials for the wisdom of this decision which enhances the credibility and integrity of our business.” The NFL agreed to have an outside neutral hear the Rice case because the Commissioner was going to testify.

Arbitration is the greatest invention of the American labor movement. Virtually every collective bargaining agreement in all industries contains a provision for the appointment of an arbitrator to hear unresolved disputes between the parties to the agreement. Parties to the agreement design a system that meets their particular needs. In the sports industry, it is most common for labor and management to select a “permanent” arbitrator who will hear all unresolved cases. Permanent, of course, does not mean forever. When a neutral issues an opinion involving a star of the sports, such as Terrell Owens or Ryan Braun, it is not unusual that he will have heard his last case for those parties. …

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