The circus that was the appeal hearing of suspended players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita, and Anthony Hargrove reportedly ended soon after it began this morning. James Varney of the Times-Picayune was camped out at league headquaters in order to provide us with instant updates. All we can deduce is that someone requested adjournment until this afternoon. Both sides are apparently telling Varney that it was the other who requested it:
jvarneyTP: Saints appeal hearing ends unexpectedly quickly. [via Twitter] jvarneyTP: Vilma & his legal team say NFL requested adjournment & to reconvene this afternoon. Vilma says no. [via Twitter] jvarneyTP: Vilma attorney vague, but hints additional legal procedures could be in the works. [via Twitter] jvarneyTP: NFL says players requested adjournment for more time to review Friday's evidence. Set for 1:45 pm EST [via Twitter]
jvarneyTP: In addition to saying evidence ridiculously thin, players side says turned over too late. jvarneyTP: What's being withheld, Vilma team says, would in fact be exculpatory for Vilma and other suspended players.
Vilma attorney: "it's clear the commissioner has withheld thousands of pages of documents from us."
Shortly before the
appeals hearing "Goodell: I am God" hearing began, Fujita, Smith, and Hargrove issued this statement:
"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.
"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."
-- Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith
UPDATE: NFL.com is spinning the title of this recent post to say that "Jonathan Vilma cuts short 'bounty' hearing with Goodell," even though the body of the post doesn't say that.
Peter Ginsberg, the lawyer for suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, said after a few opening remarks and challenges, Goodell asked to adjourn the meeting and reconvene later Monday. Vilma does not plan to return.
Those hoping for truth and respect for the intelligence of NFL fans from either side this morning are probably in for a disappointing day. Clearly, each side is only out to make the other look bad.
UPDATE 2: Interesting that NFL.com just changed the title of the above mentioned post to "Jonathan Vilma won't return to 'bounty' hearing." Did they finally realize after posting it that the title and the substance of the post didn't match up? Strange. One thing is for sure - the league and NFL.com and NFL Network are going to try to spin things one way and the players and their lawyers are going to try to spin things the other way.
UPDATE 3: In this video, Peter Ginsberg says Goodell can't abide by the rules of the hearing and that Goodell refused to turn over other documents compiled during his "investigation" and then tried to "regroup" and adjourn the hearing until this afternoon. Ginsberg says enough is enough and they won't take part in a rescheduled hearing. He says it's over. Jonathan Vilma also speaks. Ginsberg doesn't represent the other three players, so it's unclear if they plan to return this afternoon.
James Varney has more, including text of Ginsberg's statement:
"We had two fundamental issues that have come to the forefront today," Vilma attorney Peter Ginsberg said. "One is a question about how we ended up in a place, at a proceeding, where the commissioner has so unilaterally and in such a draconian fashion believes that he can take over control of a proceeding like this. Putting aside how we got here, even with regard to the few fundamental rules that should govern these proceedings he cannot abide by them. For an example, the commissioner was obligated to produce the documents to us within 72 hours before the proceeding. The NFL didn't produce any of their documents 72 hours before the proceedings. When you look at those documents it's clear the commissioner has withheld from us thousands of pages that he gathered during the course of his supposed investigation. He was also unwilling to present any witnesses to us. So we got upstairs and the commissioner has tried to regroup by adjourning today's hearing after we presented our position with regard to the process and with regard to the merits. We're not willing to participate in that kind of sham. The commissioner had legal obligations, procedural obligations. He failed in those obligations and as far as we're concerned these proceedings are over."
The NFL, for it's part, insists it complied with the language of the collective bargaining agreement by turning over some 200 out of tens of thousands of pages it amassed last Friday, three calendar days before the hearing. It was the players side that requested the adjournment, according to the NFL, to give it more time to review what has already been produced.
But it is what has not been produced that is telling, according to Ginsberg. Vilma stands accused of offering $10,000 to any teammate who took out an opposing quarterback in the 2009 playoffs, a chilling allegation he and Ginsberg say is untrue. There was no evidence in Friday's offering to support that charge, according to people favorable to the players who have reviewed it, and Ginsberg contends the massive files the NFL has thus far kept hidden would prove the falsity of the accusation.
"(Goodell) attempted to adjourn it, we closed the record," Ginsberg said. "For more abuse of the process and of Jonathan's rights? No, we've decided enough is enough. (Goodell) knows what the evidence is and if he chooses to ignore the evidence then we have to proceed as best we can to reclaim Jonathan's reputation."
Ginsberg thus left open the possibility, which he declined to address, that Vilma may seek additional recourse through the courts. Vilma has already filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell personally in federal court in New Orleans.
"I'm an eternal optimist," Ginsberg said. "Perhaps the commissioner will rethink what he's doing."
Three other players disciplined by Goodell - Saints defensive end Will Smith, former Saints now Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, and former Saints now Browns linebacker Scott Fujita - also attended Monday's hearing but declined comment before and after. Through the NFLPA, which is representing the trio, the players said they appeared essentially as a courtesy but that they did not respect the integrity of the process and would not speak at it.
Vilma, who emerged as the poster villain in the bounty system the NFL says New Orleans employed on defense from 2009 to 2011, said it has been a personally trying time for him that maddeningly continues.
"Roger Goodell has taken three months to tarnish what I've built over eight years of my career," Vilma said. "And it's tough to swallow knowing that from here on out no matter where I go from here on out I'll be forever linked to a 'bounty-gate' that's simply not true."