It’s always important to be aware of the various relationships that can affect the independence of a given decision-maker. As it relates to the one-game suspension imposed on Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans, some have pointed to a pair of potential conflicts of interest.
First, some have suggested that Jon Runyan, the NFL’s VP of policy and rules administration, should have recused himself from deciding the issue because his son plays for the Packers, who are the next opponent of the Buccaneers. If the Bucs don’t have Evans, it obviously becomes easier for Green Bay to win.
This assumes that Runyan makes the call without input. Per the league, Runyan consults with others in the decision-making process. It also overlooks the fact that Runyan’s decision is subject to appeal.
The appeal is handled by a hearing officer jointly appointed and paid by the league and the NFL Players Association. Currently, the two options are Derrick Brooks and James Thrash.
That leads to the second point. Some claim that Brook has recused himself due to his longstanding relationship with the Buccaneers. According to the league, Brooks hasn’t recused himself — and he won’t. The assignment is based on a rotation. If Brooks gets the assignment, then Brooks will handle the appeal.
There will always be factors and circumstances that potentially will influence the various decision-makers. Runyan overlapped with Bucs quarterback Tom Brady at Michigan. Brooks played defense, making him better positioned relate to Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore, who was wiped out when Evans came out of nowhere to blast Lattimore.
And Thrash was a receiver in the NFL, making him possibly relate to a player who feels compelled to protect his quarterback.
Right or wrong, it’s impossible to eliminate any and all tentacles that could influence a decision. At least the potential biases are open and obvious. The more dangerous biases are the ones that aren’t widely known.