Goodell upholds player suspensions in bounty case

Posted July 03, 2012 @ 4:10 p.m.
Posted By PFW staff

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the player suspensions handed out for the Saints’ bounty program, the league announced Tuesday.

Saints LB Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the 2012 season. Former Saints DE Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, received an eight-game ban. Saints DE Will Smith will miss four games, while ex-Saints and current Browns LB Scott Fujita will be suspended for three games.

Goodell wrote the following in a letter to the players:

“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 challenged Goodell’s authority to rule on the appeals as well as the league’s jurisdiction in punishing players for actions that predated the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and an arbitrator ruled in favor of Goodell and the league both times. Vilma has filed two lawsuits — one against Goodell for defamation and another against the league alleging several things, including the fact that the appeals hadn’t been ruled on in a timely manner.

Goodell wrote the following on the process he followed prior to handing down the discipline in his letter to the players:

“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.”

Goodell concluded his letter with the following:

“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.”

The NFLPA released the following statement in response to the decision:

"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."