NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has upheld the discipline imposed against four players for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal.
Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma were each suspended for their roles in the cash-for-hits system used by the Saints during the 2010 season. In a letter to the players, Goodell explained his reasoning.
“Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions. Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process…”
“Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,’ your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested); you elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore the CBA, in particular its provisions governing ‘conduct detrimental’ determinations.”
Vilma is suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season, Hargrove is suspended for the first eight games of the season, Smith is suspended for the first four games and Fujita for the first three.
The NFL Players Associated issued the following response to Goodell’s statement.
The players are disappointed with the League's conduct during this process. We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement. Moreover, the Commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator.
The NFLPA has never and will never condone dangerous or reckless conduct in football and to date, nothing the League has provided proves these players were participants in a pay-to-injure program. We will continue to pursue all options.
Vilma, whose season-long ban matched the one handed to Saints coach Sean Payton, appealed the ruling. But Vilma walked out of his June 18 appeal hearing at NFL headquarters in New York, claiming the process to be unfair.
“I don’t know how I can get a fair process when (Goodell) is the judge, jury and executioner,” Vilma said at the time. “You’re assuming it will be fair, but it’s not.”
Vilma has filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell, alleging the NFL Commissioner made false, defamatory and injurious statements about Vilma that damaged his professional and personal reputation.
Two independent arbitrators rejected a series of jurisdictional challenges to Goodell’s authority made by representatives for the players, ruling that the arguments were inconsistent with the collective bargaining agreement.
Late last month, Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) called off a congressional hearing on NFL bounty programs, saying he was satisfied with the league’s response to the issue.
In his letter to the players, Goodell reiterated his invitation to the players to provide evidence that would warrant a reduction in their respective penalties.
“The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each welcome to do so.”
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