Wednesday, November 23, 2005

OUR EPISTOLARY COACH: The full ruling of the arbitrator in Terrell Owens v Philadelphia Eagles is available online. Beyond all of Coach Reid's articulate and clear letters to Owens about what was expected to him, and his private offers to Owens as to which apologies would have ended this nonsense, comes this analysis of the question of whether Owens could be kept under contract but away from the team after his suspension:
The Club's concern is focused, instead, on his articulated intent to engender disruption and dissent off the field. May a coach consider these factors in deciding how to form and field a team? The answer must be "yes". It cannot be that a coach's discretion is limited to Sundays. Surely, the coaching elements of team management take place not only in the games, but in the weeks preparing for them. None of the parties to this relationship, it is fair to say, envisioned the prospect of an arbitrator reviewing a coach's decisions as to, for example, how many reps a player should take in practice, the particular squad to which he should be assigned or, indeed, whether he should practice at all. . . .

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. Moreover, and this is important, there was ample reason for the Coach to conclude, in November, that the problem was by no means resolved. At the moment of his being warned of the impending discipline, Mr. Owens was, after all, willing to "sit" rather than attempt to work things out with the team. Indeed, even at the arbitration hearing, the Player made it abundantly clear that his contract issue -- the one that inspired his marked change in attitude during the current season- - was still alive. And, he made it clear, as well, that his view of his obligations to co-exist as a teammate had not changed: In his view, for example, speaking to his quarterback was still not necessary.

Significantly, this is not a case of a coach or a team responding to a discrete event by extending otherwise contractually limited disciplinary sanctions. Involved here was not simply past bad behavior but a current and ongoing threat of continued disruption. This was not merely a question of dealing with the Player's misconduct, a matter to which traditional concepts of discipline are applicable, as discussed earlier in this opinion. The Coach and the Club were faced with far broader issues, given the clear disruption that had occurred: Team unity, cohesiveness and morale are all elements that rest squarely within the wide range of concerns to which a coach is expected to respond.

To me, it all stems from a simple clause in Owens' contract: "(Player) agrees to give his best effort and loyalty to the Club, and to conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game."

Owens didn't. Game over.

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