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Recent lawsuits could foreshadow tougher NFL-NFLPA CBA negotiations

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Mike Pennel (64) looks on from the bench area during an NFL football game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, Dec. 21, 2014, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Brian Blanco)
(AP Photo/Brian Blanco)

Green Bay Packers nose tackle Mike Pennel has filed a lawsuit in an Ohio federal court against both the NFL and the NFL Players Association stemming from an apparent second suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.

A third-year pro, Pennel is a part-time player with the Packers, on the field for 11 snaps when Green Bay topped Philadelphia on “Monday Night Football” earlier this week.

The venue of Ohio could be forum shopping, or stem from the fact that Pennel’s agent, Andy Simms, is based in the Buckeye State.

Another possibility, because it was mentioned in the suit that “on or about Aug. 7, 2016, while employed by the Green Bay Packers NFL franchise, Pennel worked as a professional football player in Canton, Ohio, which is within this District,” is that Pennel was tested around that time, which was the date of the scheduled Pro Football Hall of Fame Game between the Packers and the Indianapolis Colts which was canceled due to poor field conditions.

The complete complaint was first obtained by the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Pennel was suspended for the first four games of this season and his next hit would presumably be 10 games. He is asking U.S. District Judge John Adams in Akron to appoint a third arbitrator to hear his case and also requested they put his appeal hearing on hold until that person is appointed.

His reasoning stems from the belief that the arbitrator currently assigned to hear his case through the power of the jointly-negotiated collective bargaining agreement was “improperly assigned” and that the league and its management council “failed to abide by the arbitrator selection and assignment provisions” after Pennel received notice of an upcoming suspension on Nov. 8

That’s vague, however, and judging from past history the argument will likely be that the arbitrator assigned has been a rubber stamp for previous league penalties and hardly neutral as portrayed.

In the past, that has never been a winning argument even if you can proceed through a legal hurdle or two, higher courts tends to err on the side of caution when it comes to agreements that have been collectively bargained because overturning them would open a Pandora’s Box with implications far beyond the scope of professional football.

The bigger news here from a football standpoint is that NFLPA was included in the complaint, meaning a second member has raised his back against the union in recent weeks.

Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson recently filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board regarding the 10-game PED suspension he’s currently serving and was extremely unhappy with the treatment he received from the NFLPA after explaining his situation, which he claims was testing positive from a tainted supplement that was deemed clean by the Aegis Shield phone app provided by the union to the players.

The larger point being that more and more who are being caught up in either the SA or PED policies do not like the way the NFLPA is fighting for them when it comes to these issues. That could indicate a pushing of the union toward taking a harder line in the next CBA negotiations, particularly when it comes to recreational drugs like marijuana and over-the-counter supplements that are mislabeled.

-John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen44@gmail.com or on Twitter @JFMcMullen — Also catch John each week during the NFL season ESPN South Jersey, ESPN Southwest Florida, ESPN Lexington, CBS Baltimore, KDWN in Las Vegas, and check @JFMcMullen for John’s upcoming appearances on SB Nation Radio, FOX Sports Radio, CBS Sports Radio as well as dozens of local radio stations across North America.

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