Attorney for the New Orleans Saints' Jonathan Vilma scoffs at the NFL's evidence
The NFL, which conducted an on/off investigation of the Saints defense's alleged use of a bounty system for three years and reportedly compiled some 5,000 documents in the process, released only 200 of them Friday in a cache that represents what the league plans to use at an appeal hearing Monday in New York. An attorney for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and others sources favorable to the players who reviewed the evidence appeared stunned by its paucity. While cautioning not every piece of paper has been reviewed, the sources said the thin packet offered zero evidence Saints defenders maliciously tried to injure opponents between 2009 and 2011 or ran an organized system of bonuses for such sinister play.
Peter Ginsberg, left, the lawyer for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, says Roger Goodell 'made a dreadful mistake' in suspending his client.
The NFL said it had fully complied with the evidentiary rules of its collective bargaining agreement and declined further comment. The league had no obligation Friday to make public any evidence it doesn't plan to present Monday.
There does appear to be evidence the Saints engaged in activity that violates the collective bargaining agreement's rules on compensation, a charge consistent with the sort of pay-for-performance scheme the Saints have acknowledged existed. But the dearth of compelling evidence on the much more serious charges shouldn't come as a complete surprise because that was always an illusion, according to New York litigator Peter Ginsberg. He will represent Vilma, suspended without pay for the 2012 season, at Monday's hearing and in his federal defamation lawsuit filed in New Orleans against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
To Ginsberg, the scant dossier made sense. He said it clearly buttresses the argument the Saints bounty scandal is a miscarriage of justice. In particular, the fact the NFL reportedly didn't offer a piece of evidence supporting its claim Vilma offered $10,000 to any teammate who took out an opposing quarterback in the 2009 playoffs is proof, not that the NFL is withholding, but that is has nothing.
"There could be nothing credible about that because it never happened," Ginsberg said.
Also this ...
Peter Ginsberg, the New York litigator representing Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, said Friday that, based on the evidence furnished by the league thus far, the bounty case that led to Vilma's suspension is completely hollow. Ginsberg declined to comment on what steps Vilma might now take at Monday's scheduled appeal hearing.
Vilma will be appealing his full-year, without-pay suspension before the man who imposed it: NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. On Friday, in fulfillment of the CBA requirement it provide appellants with evidence it may use at Monday's hearing, the league turned over a scant 200 pages of documents, a tiny fraction of the 5,000 documents NFL investigators were said to have compiled.
To Ginsberg, however, the scant dossier came as no surprise. He said it clearly buttresses the argument he has made all along, namely, that this has been a miscarriage of justice. In particular, the fact the NFL reportedly did not offer a single piece of evidence supporting its claim Vilma offered $10,000 to any teammate who took out an opposing quarterback in the 2009 playoffs, is proof not that the NFL is withholding but that is has nothing.
"There could be nothing credible about that because it never happened," Ginsberg said.
The same is true of the fact the NFL did not present a list of witnesses it may call to bolster its charge the suspended players - Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, former Saints and current Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and former Saints and current Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove - were involved in a system of cash payments New Orleans had in place from 2009 to 2011 to reward plays that injured opponents.
"That's because there are no credible witnesses who could substantiate the commissioner's allegations," Ginsberg said.
Overall, however, Ginsberg argued the thin case has left deep scars.
"Unfortunately, what it says to me is Commissioner Goodell has made a dreadful mistake," he said. "After what Jonathan and the other players have been put through, to suggest the players are being presented with any kind of fair hearing based on what has been presented today is pure fantasy.
"The thin production today doesn't link any of the players to a bounty system," Ginsberg added, "and that's consistent with what we know to be true - there was no bounty system."
When asked about published reports Vilma might refuse to participate in Monday's hearing, or maintain silence at it, Ginsberg declined comment.
"Jonathan wants to participate in a fair forum," Ginsberg said. "What unfolds Monday is what unfolds Monday."
Nevertheless, Ginsberg reiterated the charges Vilma filed against Goodell in Eastern District Court of Louisiana and said it is unfortunate the linebacker has had his reputation tarnished on such thin gruel.
"Jonathan, after years of dedication and hard work, deserved better," Ginsberg said. "This is another black eye for the reputation of the NFL."
If NFL is using Times-Picayune article as evidence, then its case against New Orleans Saints is in bad shape.
In an extremely disappointing - if not unexpected - turn of events Friday, the NFL didn't shed much light on its evidence against the suspended New Orleans Saints players for their alleged roles in a bounty program. Colleague James Varney is covering the news today, so read here and check back with nola.com/saints for further details.
According to sources we've talked to, the NFL didn't provide the accused players with any direct evidence of their intent to injure other players, payments received for injuring players, the existence of a "bounty program," evidence that linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered a bounty on quarterbacks Brett Favre or Kurt Warner or evidence that defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove lied to investigators, among other crimes for which they've been severely punished.
As Varney pointed out, it's important to keep in mind that the NFL did not have to furnish all of its evidence today - just what it plans to use during the players' appeal hearing with commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday.
So does that mean the NFL kept all its "damning evidence" to itself? Or does that mean the NFL doesn't have much damning evidence? Either way, it's a disturbing sign that the league apparently feels like it doesn't have to prove its case or justify its decisions to anybody.
Even more disturbing - and awfully ironic - is that part of the evidence the NFL did share with players was a column I wrote last week after talking with linebacker Scott Shanle. For one thing, that article was written well after the league handed out its punishments, so it shouldn't have had any bearing on the punishments handed out by the league (the same goes for a recent essay written by filmmaker Sean Pamphilon that the NFL included Friday).
For another thing, Shanle didn't confirm the existence of any bounty program, any specific bounties or any intent to injure opponents. And in that column, I stressed that the NFL needs to be more forthcoming with its evidence on the Saints because, "it sure does seem like the NFL has painted their actions to be much worse than they really were. And if that's not true, then the NFL should do a better job of proving its point."
Ginsberg has the NFL's number. I feel good about this.
downside- Roger won't be happy when he is made to look like an idiot
upside- after made out to be an idiot, his credibility will drop even further
But the NFL owners DO NOT like paying for anything and really love it when they make a pay-day. Goodell's days of giving out relentless, unjustified punishments will probably be at an end. All players have to do going forward is sock the owners through the commish for cold, hard cash.
And yes Goodell's rep is already hurt, the judgement against him will blast whatever credibility he has.
But I think the NFL is no longer about credibility and reputation, it's about MONEY and Goodell will remain commish because he produces money for the owners.
Owners don't like being lied to either, Roger. :hott:
My take on what will transpire and some why's.
1. Goodell's credibility can be shot, and it will not matter unless revenue shows a down turn. If ticket sales or jersey sales take a dip then Goodell will have a problem.
Sadly there is no popularity vote for commissioner, and Goodell's job security does not hinge on weather we like him or not. The "tone" being set is that Goodell is going everything he can to address safety. If he is replaced right now, the NFLPA will take a different tone in the concussion hearings and favor the point of view that the league got rid of the one guy trying to address safety. <--- Thank Lawyers and Unions, they spin like DJ's.
2. This is not a court of law. This is a NFL court, and the NFLPA has given Goodell the power to rule, and rule on his rulings. This cementing the fact that today he will not reverse his decisions.
3. Vilma's lawsuit for deformation of character..... This will actually cause Goodell to ignore any thoughts he had about a reversal. If he backs down now, Vilma will have proof that the statements were false and unjustifiable. <-- backed into a corner.
At the end of the day the NFL is an absolute wreck right now, and two parties can be blamed for it. The ambulance chasing lawyers that slap lawsuits on the league around each and every corner, and the union known at the NFLPA that GRANTED Goodell his monarchy. <-- DeMaurice Smith is an idiot.
You can argue differently all day if you like but there are a few facts that can not be changed. A root cause analysis will take you back to what originated a problem. Had the NFLPA not granted Goodell absolute power in the CBA we would not have a lot of the problems right now, and if the NFLPA represented "past Players", which it does not, it could have negotiated some sort of settlement for those who can prove long term effects of concussions they sustained during play. It doesn't so lawyers stepped in.
Hate on Goodell ALL you want, hate on me for saying this all you like also.... Put me in Goodells shoes, grant me absolute power and the power to be the appellate on my own decisions and I am sticking to my guns also. If I do not, I will open the league to collapse and myself to replacement if I do not tow the safety line and drop the hammer on any and all items that come up that can even be remotely tagged with "safety issue" in the league.
Unpopular and unfair as all of this is... It is what it is, and not much can be done about it.
I love football, and I love watching the New Orleans Saints play football.... sadly idealists will sooner or later take that away from me. There is absolutely nothing pragmatic behind "I would rather have no football at all than accept the fact that the NFLPA is the reason Goodell is able to do what has done and move on".
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