NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell rejected the appeal of the suspensions of four New Orleans Saints players in connection with the NFL’s investigation of the Saints’ pay-to-injure/bounty program. Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma learned Tuesday that Goodell upheld the discipline that was imposed for conduct he determined was detrimental to the NFL.
In Goodell’s letter to the players he stated that, “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…”
The NFLPA quickly responded to the rejection, releasing a statement saying:
“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.”
The suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita for this season remain in effect… at least for the time being. Vilma received the harshest suspension, which would keep him out for the entire 2012 NFL season, while Hargrove, Smith and Fujita received suspensions of 8, 4, and 3 games, respectively.
Goodell’s statement did leave a window for reducing the sentences, saying that,
“While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA, I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion. 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 still welcome to do so.”
What additional facts might be persuasive to the Commission is unclear.
The NFLPA and the four players have indicated that there was insufficient evidence presented to demonstrate their involvement in the alleged pay-to-injure scheme, and that they were denied due process throughout the investigation and suspensions.
With Goodell’s decision in, the cases will go to the courts next. Vilma’s attorneys have been active in his defense, filing a defamation case against Goodell for statements that he was involved in the pay-to-injure scheme, and filing a suit this past weekend against the league seeking a restraining order to allow him to continue to work with the team regardless of Goodell’s decision. ESPN’s Adam Schefter has reported that lawyers for the other three players plan to file similar suits seeking restraining orders by next week.
The NFL has also punished the coaches involved, with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams suspended indefinitely and current Saints head coach Sean Payton suspended for the entire 2012 season. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt were also suspended for a portion of this season.