In a ruling that shocked nobody, the NFL announced on Tuesday that Commissioner Roger Goodell has upheld the bounty-related suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players -- Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (suspended for the entire 2012 season), current Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (the first eight games of the 2012 season), Saints defensive end Will Smith (the first four games), and current Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (the first three games).
The press release said that Goodell "has upheld the discipline that was imposed for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their roles in the New Orleans Saints' pay-for-performance/bounty program," and that "representatives for the players raised a series of jurisdictional challenges to the authority of the commissioner to hear appeals in this matter, arguments inconsistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and arguments rejected by two independent arbitrators jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association."
The release then copied the letter sent by Goodell to the four suspended players, all of whom disagree with the suspensions set forth, the validity and existence of the entirety of the NFL's evidence, and the process by which the suspensions were implemented.
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.
In sum, I did not make my determinations here lightly. At every stage, I took seriously my responsibilities under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I determined the discipline for each of you
(1) only after a long, detailed and professional investigation by NFL Security's experienced investigators;
(2) only after the results of that investigation were carefully reviewed by an independent expert, former United States Attorney Mary Jo White;
(3) only after I heard the appeals of the Saints' coaches and staff regarding discipline for their roles in the program;
(4) only after representatives of NFL Security, along with Mr. Pash and Mr. Birch, spoke with Players Association attorneys at length regarding the investigation; and
(5) only after giving each of you multiple opportunities to meet with the NFL investigators and to share with them your version of the events surrounding the program. The suspensions imposed were reasonable action taken to preserve public confidence in, and the integrity of, the game of professional football."
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.
We'll have much more on what the next steps might be.
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- New Orleans Saints
- NFL Players Association