Due Process, Fact or Fiction? Goodell Meets With Vilma, Smith and Hargrove

The NFL’s questionable process throughout its investigation into “Bounty Gate” is reminiscent of a Steig Larsson novel.  It seems at any moment Lisbeth Salander, the heroine of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, might appear out of nowhere with a document hacked from the vault-like NFL computer system proving that Jonathan Vilma and his teammates were unjustly accused and that the NFL conspired to vilify them for some reason totally unrelated to the now infamous Bounty scandal.  It could happen.

Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell on Tuesday about the Saints bounty scandal and Scott Fujita’s meeting was postponed. On Monday, Vilma and Commissioner Roger Goodell met to discuss Vilma’s suspension, which has been for the time being lifted by the federal courts.

At the meeting, Goodell presented Vilma with a sworn affidavit from Gregg Williams, the former defensive coordinator of the New Orleans Saints who has been suspended indefinitely by the league.  The affidavit alleges, among other things, that on the eve of the 2009 NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings, Vilma, addressing the Saints defensive squad (including coaches), personally promised $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre, the Vikings quarterback, out of the game.

If this is true, of course, Vilma and the Saints deserve their punishments and the related public scorn.

Here’s the problem, though:  No one had heard of this affidavit prior to Monday and there’s a reason for that.  The affidavit was signed on September 14, 2012 – just three days before the Vilma-Goodell meeting.

Moreover, in the affidavit, Williams stated other players made similar promises of bounties but he couldn’t recall their identities – only Vilma was singled out.   Interesting… true or convenient memory recall?

Obviously, Vilma and his attorney vehemently denied the claims as “falsity(s).”

But at this point, the truth or falseness of the claims is starting to take a backseat to a bigger issue.  The NFL’s heavy-handed, non-transparent and at times reckless approach to condemning these players smacks of a medieval monarchy without any sense of fairness or checks and balances.

Stated differently, these players, right or wrong, have been denied their due process – a cornerstone of justice in this country.  To be presented with evidence that appears seemingly pulled out of thin air days before a face-to-face meeting with your accuser not only violates America’s sense of right but also makes it appear that the NFL is trying to do something unfair and wrong.

It gives credibility to Vilma’s tweet after the meeting that Williams was “bullied into signing the affidavit.”  Whether he was or not, time will tell – but again that is not the point.  These late day maneuvers make it appear that the NFL is trying to manipulate the process and public opinion, either to justify its previous claims or for some other reason.  Goodell, a lawyer by training, and the NFL’s legal staff should know better.  The league appears to be inviting this cloak and dagger mess.

Vilma said it best: “It was in our best interest to meet today.  We spoke truthfully, honestly, bluntly.”

The question is why has it taken so long and when will the NFL learn to treat its players with the respect and integrity that everyone deserves.

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