Owens Loses Arbitration
Thursday, November 24, 2005
Arbitrator Richard Bloch yesterday upheld the Philadelphia Eagles' four-game suspension of Terrell Owens and the team's plan to deactivate the controversial wide receiver for the remainder of the season.
The ruling almost certainly ends Owens's tenure with the club. It enables the Eagles to prevent him from returning to the team this season, although they will have to pay him for the final five games after his suspension ends this weekend. The club likely will release Owens in the offseason.
Bloch wrote in a 38-page decision that he supported the Eagles' argument, made during a hearing last week, that Owens and his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, were carrying out their threats to disrupt the team in an effort to compel the club to renegotiate Owens's contract or release him. Bloch called Owens's behavior "unparalleled detrimental misconduct."
The Washington-based arbitrator wrote: "Mr. Owens and his agent threatened a campaign of disruption and implemented it through repeated acts, large and small, of disrespect, dissent and insubordination, culminating with a well-publicized verbal assault on the team and on the quarterback. The coach could properly conclude that, however excellent Owens' performance was on the field, his off-field conduct and demeanor were seriously devitalizing the organization."
The NFL Players Association had contested the punishment, maintaining that it was excessive and violated the sport's collective bargaining agreement. But Bloch sided with the Eagles and the league.
"The club has shouldered its burden of providing clear and convincing evidence of the player's misconduct and, moreover, that the four-week suspension was for just cause," Bloch wrote in his decision, a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post. "Additionally, there was no violation of the labor agreement inherent in the club's decision to pay Mr. Owens, but not to permit him to play or practice, due to the nature of his conduct and its destructive and continuing threat to the team."
Bloch heard arguments from both sides in the case during a 14-hour hearing Friday at a Philadelphia airport hotel. His decision likely will be the final say on the matter. It's unlikely that Owens would be able to successfully appeal the ruling in court. Legal analysts said Owens would have to demonstrate that there had been an obvious misapplication of the law to overturn an arbitrator's decision.
Union officials said in a written statement that they were "very disappointed" with Bloch's decision, adding: "His ruling essentially ignores the CBA and the limits it places on club discipline, and it ignores the obligation a club has to either provide employment to a player or allow him to play somewhere else. We are confident that we put in a winning case at the hearing last Friday, and we still believe Terrell Owens had a right to a legitimate reinstatement. Unfortunately, the arbitrator believed otherwise."
The union reportedly was making plans to exercise its veto power next month over Bloch being retained by the league as an arbitrator.
Harold Henderson, the league's chief labor executive, said in a written statement: "We are pleased that the arbitrator has upheld the right of a club to suspend a player for conduct detrimental to the club. The ruling makes clear that Terrell Owens and his agent engaged in conduct that was disruptive to the Eagles and that Coach [Andy] Reid's decision to suspend the player was appropriate."
The Eagles issued a statement saying they were pleased with the ruling but were moving on to preparations for their remaining games. The defending NFC champions will take a 4-6 record into Sunday's game against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field, and they'll also be without quarterback Donovan McNabb for the rest of the season. He's about to undergo surgery to have his sports hernia repaired.
Owens loses about $800,000 of his $3.25 million salary this season during his suspension. His seven-year, nearly $49 million contract with the Eagles also contains a provision that might enable the team to recoup $1.725 million in bonus money from him. The Eagles will have to pay him about $1 million for the five games in which he'll be deactivated. Bloch ruled that Reid has the authority to deactivate Owens if he chooses.
The Eagles punished Owens on the heels of him criticizing the club's front office and McNabb during a televised interview, one day after he reportedly got into a locker-room scuffle with former Eagles defensive end Hugh Douglas.
Bloch wrote that the fight with Douglas was not a factor in his decision. But he said the Eagles had put Owens on proper notice, in part through a series of letters from Reid to Owens, that he was in jeopardy of being severely disciplined. In one of the letters, Reid demanded the return of the $1.725 million, but Bloch wrote that the team had not yet pursued collection of that money. According to Bloch's ruling, the Eagles maintained during the hearing that they acted only after a series of transgressions by Owens that included repeatedly violating the team's dress code and parking in coaches' spots and handicapped spaces at the club's training facility.
The union maintained that the suspension was excessive compared with the punishments in similar cases, and argued that the Eagles had not properly followed a course of escalating sanctions with Owens. The union also argued that deactivating Owens after his suspension violates the labor agreement, which sets a four-game suspension without pay as the maximum punishment for conduct detrimental to the team. Union officials said the team should have been forced to release Owens if it didn't want to play him the rest of the season.
The feud stems from a bitter contract dispute that began after Owens returned early from a severe ankle sprain to play in last season's Super Bowl, which the Eagles lost to the New England Patriots. Still, Owens remained productive on the field, with 47 catches for 763 yards and six touchdowns in the seven games he played this season.