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The NFL learned a valuable lesson in the Deflategate decision. Rules, and the manner in which they are to be followed, count. In football speak, the NFL just got blindsided by its failure to follow its own rules and those contained in the collective bargaining agreement.

For those living under a stone for the past seven months, the NFL suspended New England Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady for the first four games of the upcoming season, or a quarter of the football season. Tom Brady and the NFL Players Association appealed the decision. The NFL Commissioner made the decision he was going to hear the appeal on a sanction he, or his office, issued. The appeal was to take the form of an arbitration, an informal trial, where the Commissioner determined he would ensure the integrity of the game as the judge, jury, and again, executioner of the case.

What is ironic and overlooked is the NFL’s attempt to get cute with the rules of law – – rules it was permitted to utilize to its benefit, as it did, when it issued its decision (arbitration award) upholding the four game suspension and almost simultaneously  filed a motion to confirm the decision in the federal court sitting in the Southern District of New York. The goal, utilizing what is referred to as the “first to file” rule – – was to stop Tom Brady and the Players Association from filing a motion to vacate the arbitration award before a union friendly federal court in Minnesota. The NFL understandably wanted to have the motion filed in an employer friendly forum, New York. The gamesmanship – – as played by the rules, won out, and the case was properly heard in New York.

But here’s where the NFL went wrong. In racing to the New York court, it hoped the assigned judge would simply acquiesce to the NFL’s position, which was in essence, it can do what it wants.  Unfortunately, the law says otherwise, and the case was assigned to a judge who understood what is required to ensure the integrity of the arbitration process. In rendering its decision to vacate the arbitration award, the court rightly chided the NFL, specifically the Commissioner, for ignoring rules to permit a fair playing field for the parties to the arbitration, namely Mr. Brady and the Players Association.

Rules, procedures and protocols, regardless of the situation, are there for a reason. They provide all involved in the process with an understanding of what is to be expected by the parties and what will occur if they are violated. The decision in the Brady case affirms arbitrators – – those making the final decisions – – must comply with rules to ensure a fair and equitable process. Arbitrations are not to be Kangaroo Courts, because if they are, there simply is no integrity in the process. That was the underlying point in the decision of the judge to vacate the arbitration award.

It is somewhat ironic that the NFL Commissioner, who holds himself as the final arbiter of the integrity of the game, failed to ensure the integrity of his own proceedings.

The Law Offices of Barry M. Bordetsky represents parties in employment, contractual and securities arbitrations as well as litigants before state and federal courts. If you have questions regarding your arbitration process, please contact Barry Bordetsky at (800) 998-7705 or email barry@bordetskylaw.com.