I'm sure 99% of you have heard that four Saints players have been suspended for their alleged participation in the infamous Bounty Program. Many people are surprised at the severity of the suspensions; the longest going to LB Jonathan Vilma, a year on the pine. I'm not surprised at the severity since less than a month ago they hit the Saints management just as hard. What surprised me was that only four players were suspended. I thought for sure it was going to be upwards of 10, though I have no real justification for thinking that.
Actually my biggest surprise was hearing for what I'm pretty sure the very first time, an outright denial from each of the four players. Here's the immediate statement from the assumed 'worst offender':
"I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner.
So where was this denial three weeks ago after the team suspensions came down? Where was the outright denial of their participation when it was first made public several months? For the statements to come out now after finding out your about to lose a ton of money seems at best contrived. Was it your attorney that suggested you remain quiet for fear someone might loud you out and draw attention to you? Is it the same attorney that wrote that statement for you? That might be a good strategy in the face of a criminal trial.
But these guys have it much worse than that. Courts and the judges in them have to follow rules. The NFL League office is run by the NFL 'Czar' if you will Mr. Roger Goodell (sounds better than 'dictator'). He doesn't really answer to anybody when it comes to player discipline and handing down suspensions. Now I imagine the player's union has some clause built in the CBA for resolving appeals and there might be a good chance of getting their suspensions reduced. But I'm betting they stand as issued and here's why.
Goodell has the advantage over a regular court that he is not bound by the burden of indisputable proof. Based on some tweets I've seen some of the players assumed since the money was a cash transaction (if it happened at all of course) that Goodell did not have enough proof to suspend them. Let's assume there is no direct proof of any payments whatsoever. That doesn't necessarily keep Goodell from handing down a harsh penalty. By the way, if the players decided to seek justice in a state or federal court they would have to prove Goodell exceeded his authority as Commish. In that regard he certainly did not.
So Goodell can and probably did base his punishments based on private interviews and the now infamous locker room video. I'm not even sure he has to release his evidence much less allow any cross-examination of the evidence or witnesses. So pardon me if Vilma's outright denial seems a tad late given Goodell says he has a signed 'confession' from teammate Tony Hargrove:
"Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it," the league's statement read.
Hargrove "actively obstructed" the league's 2010 investigation by lying. The cover-up likely cost him extra games, compared to linebacker Scott Fujita (three games) and defensive end Will Smith (four games).
I can see the text from Vilma to Hargrove after finding that juicy tidbit out: "WTF bro!"
So do I think the penalties were a little harsh? Yeah. But it only hurts the players case by trying to deny the whole ordeal now after remaining quiet for so long. An innocent man would have protested long ago. So then it only becomes a matter of degree of punishment; but do not deny punishment is not warranted. Maybe by making the punishment so severe it might prevent any player from ever considering something similar again. It seems to have worked for MLB and their punishment for Pete Rose. The players might consider themselves lucky if they ever get to play again. Certainly Greg Williams is wondering if he will ever return.
In my final analysis I'm having a hard time feeling any pity for these four players nor do I feel an injustice has occurred. Maybe they are being made of examples of, that could be true. But I'm certainly not buying an outright denial.