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Due Process: What Does it Mean for NFL Discipline Issues?

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on September 17, 2014 8:30 AM

Pro football and the U.S. Constitution are not typically mentioned in the same sentence, let alone the same blog post.

But with a recent string of NFL players being hit with criminal charges for their conduct off the field -- including all-pro running back Adrian Peterson, who was indicted on child abuse charges over the weekend -- the constitutional concept of due process has entered the football lexicon. The phrase has been used by team officials to explain why players charged with crimes, such as 49ers defensive lineman Ray McDonald, have remained on the field, as well as by players fighting suspensions for their off-the-field conduct, like Ravens running back Ray Rice.

So what exactly is due process? And how does it apply to NFL players facing serious criminal charges?

Due Process Under the Fifth Amendment

Among the rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is the right not to "be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law."

As applied to legal procedure, due process typically requires that a person be given notice and a fair hearing before being deprived of a protected interest. For example, many public employees are considered to have a property interest in their jobs, and thus can't be terminated unless given advance notice and a hearing at which the government must show good cause for terminating the employee.

But NFL players aren't public employees, so do they have due process protecting them against losing their jobs?

NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement

Although NFL players' jobs may are not necessarily protected by constitutional due process, they may be protected by the due process requirements of the players' collective bargaining agreement with NFL owners.

The problem, however, is determining just what those requirements are. According to Forbes, the collective bargaining agreement is drafted in a way that makes it unclear exactly what rights the players may have against punishment by NFL commissioner Paul Goodell. But the disciplinary rules may soon be clarified by an appeal expected to be filed by Rice, who was suspended indefinitely from the league after video of Rice punching his wife surfaced online.

Ultimately, the role of due process rights -- whether constitutional or contractual -- is to ensure that both sides have a chance to be heard.

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