Whether it was the infamous Ryan Braun incident, Tom Brady and Deflategate or Julian Edelman’s appeal, disputed disciplinary enforcements or lost contract value and reputation based on allegations, it is clear that when it comes to athletes, their unions, and the league offices, there have been three, consistent gripes and problems with investigations. The three being allegations of lack of due process, failure in chain of evidence procedures and arbitrators who lack the necessary neutral thought process to decide important cases. Regardless of how fans or invested parties feel personally, these three issues in private and public matters before the courts (whether civil or criminal) are clearly delineated principles of law and fairness. Those three issues are rarely disputed in trials and deliberations when conducted in a professional manner.
As a matter of fact, in private and public legal matters before the courts, where due process is violated, evidence is lost or manufactured or where a judge or juror is found to have violated the rules of ethics or impartiality, what follows is a mistrial, retrial, and/or dismissal of evidence, judge or juror. Understandably, administrative matters are less formal where the focus is on privacy and efficiency, but it is possible to have justice, privacy, and efficiency.
Unfortunately, when it comes to sports leagues, there have been issues with implementation and enforcement. At the very least, all can agree that the process has been a large part of the contention between management, the players, and the viewing public. If sports leagues want to implement a process that is fair to themselves, the players and pass muster with the general public (their profit center and fan base), they would be wise to implement a better system to protect the process. Here are three ways all parties can benefit immediately:
- Due Process Protections
The 5th and 14th Amendments to the United States Constitution state no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law and shall be afforded equal protection under the law. This means each citizen shall be given notice of the rules, and consequences for violating the rules, access to fair process, implementation and enforcement of the rules of law and policy. Any league policy going forward should start from the foundation of the 5th and 14th Amendments. Furthermore, where there are gray areas, the next two points, like our government process, will check and balance the first.
- Chain of Evidence Guarantees
Leagues should be hiring, with the input and consent from players and their unions, an independent company that handles all investigations, chain of evidence logs and security. The same standards and violations should be implemented as with the courts. If a ball or drug test is lost, damaged or questioned, it must be thrown out. Remember, standards of proof are different from standards of maintaining evidence. The lower level of proof is acceptable in civil and administrative matters where money is at stake, but the level of evidence handling should never be lowered or compromised from its highest level, which is perfection.
Additionally, like our government, legal and policy processes work well in threes. . In the court process, sheriffs and police investigate, lawyers litigate, while judge and jury adjudicate. Sports leagues would be wise to implement a similar equally independent and fair process to prevent the bad publicity and bad blood that ultimately provides for easier collective bargaining negotiations down the road.
- Unbiased and Independent Neutrals
As important as fair process, notice and a valid chain of evidence, having the best decision-maker to apply the law and rules to the facts is essential to a fair outcome. Having an unbiased, neutral arbitrator deciding the best outcome on what is presented is what the process is about. Trusting the process requires trusting the system. If the system is compromised or stacked against the parties, the process is useless as tainted.
The frustration with leagues implementing a policy, the players abiding by a policy and the public having a front row seat can be solved when the process is fixed to be fair. This is no knock on any particular league, but it is a call to action to have policies that are known, adhered to and enforced independently and equally for all. In our present age of information, social media, and instantaneous content everywhere, there is no better time than now to usher in a new era. All invested parties would be wise to protect the process by starting a new era of fairness so that the truth is determined through the process and the outcome accepted as the end of things devoid of excuses from the players, unions or leagues.