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"Bountygate" Evidence: The response

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Anthony Hargrove's Mona Lisa smile? He references the famous painting in his statement to the press. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Anthony Hargrove's Mona Lisa smile? He references the famous painting in his statement to the press. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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Yesterday I wrote about the key pieces of evidence in the investigation of the Saints and the bounty program. Now I want to cover the various responses made by the people implicated in the bounties.

Outside Council's Findings

  • Ran a sloppy investigation that inexplicably included a decision to not question any of the coaches about the documentary evidence used as a basis for punishment.
  • Punished players before they had the ability to confront, challenge or explain a single piece of evidence used against them.
  • Launched a public campaign in the media to support the discipline and tarnish the reputations of players before any hearing, effectively destroying any claim that the Commissioner could act as an impartial arbitrator.
  • Withheld any and all evidence from the players for nearly four months despite repeated requests for full information and full transparency.
  • Falsely characterized witness interviews to draw false conclusions about players' involvement in a pay-to-injure scheme.
  • Retained a former U.S. Attorney to whitewash the investigation by employing her to conduct a media conference call affirming an investigation she was not part of.
  • Employed the same former U.S. Attorney to today's hearing to read the report of an investigation she did not conduct, but prohibited her from answering any questions from the players.
  • Refused to make any coaches involved in preparing the supposed documentary evidence available for interviews by the players or at today's hearing.
  • Provided only 200 pages out of their claimed 18,000 pages of materials and refused to provide any materials that might be exculpatory.
  • Without explanation, produced at today's hearing a declaration from a team advisor who said that no bounty program existed.
  • Inexplicably relied upon an article and a blog post written after the investigation had concluded and punishment had been issued as ‘evidence' even though they had supposedly collected thousands of documents proving players participated in a pay-to-injure scheme.
  • Refused a three-day adjournment and delay of the appeals hearing so that the players could perform a more comprehensive review of the documents

Rather heated in it's language, especially regarding the supposedly sloppy investigation and the refusal to allow any exculpatory evidence into the hearings. Thing is the NFLPA also conduced it's own investigation into the scandal, and I'm very curious as to where their findings are. If there is indeed a great deal of exculpatory evidence, or evidence of sloppy investigation, then the NFLPA's investigation should have uncovered that. If they uncovered it, then why not release that information to the press to exonerate the players?

Player statements below the jump

Jonathan Vilma

Vilma has had the strongest response of all the players who were punished, going so far as to sue Goodell for defamation. Based on the evidence that was released he's going to have a very tough time proving defamation because of the ledger showing the $10k payout and the witness statements saying that he offered that much.

He left the hearings early on Monday and declined to return and had this to say to the media:

"It's unfortunate that this process has been the way it is," Vilma said Monday after leaving the NFL's offices. "I don't know how you get a fair process when you have a judge, jury and executioner [Goodell]. He's made a ruling and is going to stick by that ruling. Whatever happens from there happens. It's hard to go into a process or situation assuming that it's fair."

While it would be nice to have third party arbitration in discipline matters the NFLPA (of which Vilma is a member) agreed to give Goodell this kind of power. The time to fight it is not when you're being disciplined, but in the CBA. As for fair process, if he has any evidence that he didn't participate, and any explanation as to why his name appears as a contributor, I'd love to hear it.

Scott Fujita, Will Smith, and Anthony Hargrove also issued a joint statement:

"We have purportedly been disciplined by the commissioner for alleged activities that the National Football League has grossly misrepresented to the public," the statement began.

"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.

"As veteran players of 11, 9 and 9 years in this league, we are profoundly disappointed with the NFL's conduct in this matter. We know what the NFL has publicly said we did, and the commissioner has chosen to try to punish us and disparage our characters based on semantics, not facts. Words are cheap and power is fleeting.

"Shame on the National Football League and commissioner Goodell for being more concerned about 'convicting' us publicly than being honorable and fair to men who have dedicated their professional lives to playing this game with honor."

Nothing really new there, and again no defense other than a simple denial that they took part in any bounty.

In response to the audio that the NFL says has Hargrove's voice on it saying "Give me my money" Hargrove simply denies that the voice is his, and then has a nearly 1500 word statement on the matter. Some highlights:

"There is no way I can reveal to you today the depth of their imagination and determination in painting this picture for you, the public, adroitly using the media as their tools of art. But I will dabble a little. And stay with me, because even though they have somberly made it clear that The Mona Lisa is not smiling, if we move in closer we notice that ... just maybe she is.

"I have felt like the target of a sophisticated mugging, watching as many have walked by and minded their own business as if the muggers deserved their prize.

Part of the NFL's evidence so prominently and proudly displayed yesterday included a DVD with interesting excerpts from the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. They showed it to the players and then to "The Twelve". It showed certain highlights from the game and a little sideline discussion, among other things. The Twelve, from what I heard, came away very convinced that the NFL had put on...what did they call it...oh yeah, an explosive and compelling show of evidence.

"As I watched the DVD, I did not think so. In fact, I felt similar to how I had felt when I read the NFL's statement about my declaration. Bewildered. I looked around the room wondering if anyone else caught what the NFL had done. It seemed no one did. They are very, very good.

"Here's the problem with that. It wasn't me. That's right. The NFL got their evidence all wrong. In their rush to convict me, they made a very serious error. Is it intentional? I don't know. But one thing I do know with absolute! Like I said, lean in closer, look closer, listen closer. It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me. But the NFL does not know me well. They simply make assumptions. With ... my ... life.

The biggest issue I have with all of this stringent denial by the players and the NFLPA is the lack of any supposed exculpatory (to use their words) evidence. If there is a great deal of that out there, then why hasn't the NFLPA released it? If Vilma can offer an explanation as to why his name appears on a ledger offering $10k to knock Favre out of a game, and that ledger is supported by witness statements, then why hasn't he? If Hargrove can offer up an explanation as to why a witness would identify him as the one saying "Pay me my money", why hasn't he? And why hasn't the NFLPA released the results of their investigation? To me that's the biggest red flag of all.