If you thought the Saints' bounty scandal was nasty before today, just wait until you read what officials involved in the case had to say Sunday and today. The players (Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith, and the Packers' Anthony Hargrove) had their opportunities to appeal their suspensions in front of Roger Goodell earlier today. While Vilma did speak with the commissioner about the case (and left unhappy with the result), the other three players released this statement through the NFLPA before showing up for the scheduled appeals. This section pretty much sums up what the three players think of the proceedings:
We have purportedly been disciplined by the Commissioner for alleged activities that the National Football League has grossly misrepresented to the public. We are in attendance today not because we recognize the Commissioner’s jurisdiction to adjudicate regarding these specious allegations, but because we believe the League would attempt to publicly mischaracterize our refusal to attend. We will not address the substance of the NFL’s case because this is not the proper venue for adjudication, and there has been no semblance of due process afforded to us.
Ouch. I can't disagree that the NFL would likely try to spin the players' absence as an admission of guilt, as that would seem consistent with how the league's media relations people have operated since the start of the lockout. The problem here is with the appeals process. The problem for the players is that the NFLPA gave up the right to an independent appeal in the new collective bargaining agreement, so if they are arguing that this is not the "proper venue for adjudication," they should have addressed that a year ago during the CBA negotiations. (Sidenote: listen to Andrew Brandt. He's as informed as they come on the legal issues in the NFL and the CBA.)
More shots across the bow of the NFL and Roger Goodell can be found after the jump.
On Sunday, Anthony Hargrove's attorney, Phil Williams, blasted the NFL and Commissioner Goodell for his actions in this case. The whole letter is here, as acquired by ESPN's Kevin Seifert. Here are a few of the really nasty shots fired:
If these men have committed such grievous crimes that you have determined that their careers should be in danger and/or their names sullied, why be so secretive about the "evidence" that you use to condemn them?
... If you believe the "evidence" to be so substantial that you would espouse the 50,000-plus page file, why would most of those pages have zero to do with "bounties" or even "pay-for-performance"? Do you actually have any concrete evidence that any player from another team was injured as a result of a "bounty" and that a player from the Saints was therefore paid accordingly?
... Is honesty truly paramount to you? If so, why did you take Anthony Hargrove's declaration and state that it said things that it did not say? Is that honest? Why did you state that Anthony "admitted to lying" when he has done no such thing? Do you hold yourself to the same standard as you hold others? Have you "admitted to lying"? To clarify, would you consider it lying to say someone "admitted to lying" when they did not do so?
Yikes. Interpret this how you will, but I see one way to take it: Hargrove and his lawyers are PISSED. I can't say I blame them, especially if a statement of mine were twisted around and if no concrete evidence were given for why I were suspended.
I expect a strongly-worded response from the NFL to take the heat off them and put it back on the players. But for right now, the league looks like the bad guy.