DeMaurice Smith, the head of the NFL's player's union, said Tuesday he plans to meet soon with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to discuss the league's increased fines for helmet-to-helmet hits and the way those sanctions are appealed.
The high-level meeting, which Smith said would take place "in the near future," would address a sensitive issue that has grabbed attention league-wide and especially in Philadelphia, where the Eagles have seen players heavily fined, hit and knocked unconscious, sometimes drawing penalties, sometimes not.
"I think it's important that we discuss both the policy, the fines, the amount of the fines, and the manner in which the amounts were determined and the punishment was determined," Smith said at an NFL Players Association event at the Water Works Restaurant and Lounge.
Of particular concern, Smith said, is the appeals process and what he saw as inconsistency in the way penalties and fines - some as high as $75,000 - have been handed out.
"Some of the fines were imposed even when no flags were thrown. Our players look at other contact issues, where neither a flag nor a fine is imposed, so I think it's important to have a discussion about it all," Smith said.
When the union does appeal fines, the decision goes to another NFL official rather than a neutral party. The union has not been able to overturn or reduce fines for helmet-to-helmet hits.
"We have always believed a better system is to have a neutral arbitrator," Smith said.
The NFL could not be reached for a response or to confirm the meeting late Tuesday night.
The league's high-profile crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits is meant to reduce some of the dangerous blows that have become familiar parts of the game. But the heightened scrutiny has drawn the ire of players, particularly given the size of the fines that often come after fast-moving plays. In some cases, players have drawn penalties or fines even when appearing to lead with their shoulders, not helmets.
The heightened fines came about in part because of a violent collision that knocked out Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Linebacker Ernie Sims became one of the first players to pay when he was fined $50,000 for a hit against the Titans, though the play did not draw a penalty. Cornerback Asante Samuel was later docked $40,000 for a hit against the Giants. Safety Kurt Coleman drew a penalty but no fine for another hit that left Colts wide receiver Austin Collie lying prone.
Meanwhile, kick returner Ellis Hobbs sustained a neck injury that ended his season, and possibly career, after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit that was deemed legal.
Hobbs was one of two current Eagles at Tuesday's event, intended, according to the NFLPA, to thank the fans. It also gave them a chance to make their case regarding a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL that is needed and rally local union members in a city with deep labor roots.
"We want to play games, but we're the ones out there playing, and we just want a fair deal," said tackle Winston Justice, the Eagles' union representative. "I'm totally behind the NFLPA. I don't think they're being greedy. I don't think they're asking for something over the top. I think they just want fair compensation for what the players do."
Smith declined to discuss specifics of negotiations the league but said he has been "brutally clear" in warning players to prepare for a lockout in 2011.
He said an 18-game regular season, an issue pushed by NFL owners, is a "non-starter" under the league's "current system." He cited increased injury risks but left the door open for compromise. The NFLPA has held similar events in union-strong NFL cities such as Pittsburgh and Green Bay.