The player appeal hearings for Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove are scheduled for this Monday, June 18th in New York at the league office. Roger Goodell, the person who levied the unprecedented fines and suspensions against Saints coaches, players, and the organization, will also hear the appeals. This is basically just an exercise in futility and no one really believes he will truly listen to what the players and their lawyers have to say and thereby consider altering his punishments. In Roger Goodell's world, backing down is a sign of weakness and that would tarnish his precious shield. After the way the league has built up this story and strategically disseminated to the media only information that aids their agenda, he can't afford to budge.
Nevertheless, the show must go on for this kangaroo court. Per the CBA, the league must make available at least three days in advance all evidence they plan to use in the Monday hearing that supports their contention that the players are guilty. That doesn't mean, however, they must make available all "evidence" in the matter.
The difference is significant. With no obligation to produce so-called "exculpatory" evidence, the league could (in theory) conceal evidence that would suggest that the players didn’t do it, introducing (and thus disclosing) only the evidence that points to guilt.
The players, through their lawyers and the NFLPA, have been requesting to see the league's evidence against them for months. In recent days, they've made other requests that may or may not go unheeded:
In a letter to Goodell, the union wrote,
"We write to memorialize the players' position that the NFL must compel the attendance of the following individuals at the hearing:
1. Sean Peyton [sic]
2. Gregg Williams
3. Joe Vitt
4. Mickey Loomis
5. Blake Williams
6. Michael Cerullo
7. Joe Hummel
8. Jeff Miller."
There was no immediate response Thursday from the coaches -- some of them, like Cerullo, a one-time Saints assistant whom many have publicly fingered as one of the league's original sources for information in the bounty matter (something never confirmed by Cerullo or the NFL), are no longer involved in the NFL. Others, Payton and Williams most noticeably, are currently serving suspensions imposed by Goodell.
In another letter sent today, the NFLPA again asks for additional evidence and contends that a culture of fear is blocking the testimony next week from witnesses potentially beneficial to the suspended players appeal.
In particular, the NFLPA says it believes the NFL is in possession of videotapes made throughout the 2010 season by Duke Naiphon, a physical/sleep therapist who is friends with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Naiphon, who was interviewed at length by NFL investigators, has contended from the moment the bounty scandal broke in March that the entire matter has been misconstrued.
Naiphon believes - and most players have taken the same position - that the fiery language for which Williams is well known in professional football was a motivational tactic, not some diabolical plot to hurt opposing players.
The NFLPA echoed that view in its letter to Goodell.
"We anticipate that we will receive all forms of evidence, including notes from witness interviews, which indicate that Gregg Williams' hyperbolic language in talking about his accountability system was not intended or perceived as literal instructions to intentionally injure opposing players," the union wrote.
On Friday, the union said it feels an atmosphere of fear has suffused the bounty scandal. Consequently, potential witnesses, afraid they could be blackballed by the league if they take the players' side or testify that what happened in New Orleans between 2009 and 2011 was not as sinister as it has been painted, are clamming up.
"Finally, we have been informed that several witnesses who are current or suspended NFL club employees are concerned that appearing to offer truthful testimony about this matter would negatively impact their careers," the NFLPA wrote. "We note that the concerns of those individuals will be eliminated if, in the quest to obtain the complete truth regarding this matter, the NFL (the entity from which they fear retribution) compels their attendance and truthful testimony."
For anyone who still thinks everyone must be guilty as charged because the coaches and Mickey Loomis didn't fight back and speak out against their own over-the-top suspensions, there's your answer on why they couldn't do anything but take their beating and be quiet about it.
Mickey Loomis isn't taking any chances.
At some point in the past two months, the union approached the club about issuing a statement or a declaration that was described as saying the NFL's accusations don't square with the integrity of the Saints' players, or that the league has twisted the information it did obtain out of recognizable context.
Loomis declined to do so, the source said, and Loomis did not respond to an email Thursday asking about the request.
The NFLPA further contends that the league's entire case is "a sham."
The players' union also asked Thursday that the NFL follow what would fall under the Brady Law in a criminal matter, meaning the league should provide, "potentially exculpatory information," too.
Sources on the appellant side took two views of the latest situation. The first was that, by freezing out all sides and failing to make the union a partner in a matter the league insists has player safety at its core, the entire Saints disciplinary case has become "a sham," as one league source put it.
Vilma's attorney Ginsberg was even more pointed.
"I'm convinced the league has not produced its evidence because there is no evidence to support its findings and accusations against Jonathan," he said.
When Goodell denies their appeals on Monday, something the players, the union, and their lawyers most likely expect, it won't end there. This has been headed to court all along and we can expect the matter to drag on for months to come. Some Saints fans want to just move on and let the matter drop while others like myself want the full truth to come out because we suspect the league is not being honest with this matter and is blowing it out of proportion in order to suddenly look serious about player safety ahead of the many lawsuits they now face from former players. The league is having a difficult time convincing people that they truly care about former players and is most likely very nervous over what may happen when these lawsuits go to court. This anxiety may have led them to jump too aggressively on Gregg Williams' "pay-for-performance" program, but it's too late for them to change course now. The real truth, no matter how damaging to either the league or the Saints organization, must come out!
The league today is mandated to release to the players the evidence that it plans to present at the Monday appeal. That doesn't mean they'll allow us to see it and I expect they won't. I can't believe I'm saying this, but Mike Florio makes a good point.
On Friday, the NFLPA and the individual players will know more about the evidence that the NFL plans to use on Monday. Hopefully, someone will see fit to ensure that the evidence makes its way into the hands of the media.
And before anyone claims that it’s none of the media’s business, the NFL has on multiple occasions made it the media’s business, using the media as the tool for communicating to the fans information that the league wanted to be disseminated. The time has come for the media, and thus the fans, to know the full story.
Whatever it may be.
The NFL released some evidence today, if it can be called that:
Ginsberg said the majority of the evidence centers around a PowerPoint slideshow of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams' directives and speeches to players. Ginsberg said there is other evidence besides the slide show, but none of it links Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita or Anthony Hargrove -- all suspended for part or all of the 2012 season by Goodell -- to putting bounties on opposing players.
"The NFL provided a slideshow of Gregg Williams' most outrageous comments," Ginsberg said. "It is evidence that reflects an assistant coach in the NFL has a style that might rightfully be distasteful but that has been tolerated for years by several NFL teams. It in no way supports any of the accusations that Commissioner Goodell has so publicly made against Jonathan.
"There is nothing that evidences opposing players were targeted. There is nothing that evidences any of the players were involved in putting money on the heads of opposing players the way the Commissioner has suggested."