The NFLPA largely has been quiet regarding the NFL’s conclusion from four weeks ago today that the Saints maintained a bounty system for three years, administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and funded by and distributed to defensive players who, among other things, knocked opponents out of games.
Executive director DeMaurice Smith, who was elected to a second term last week, addressed the situation in an “exclusive interview” with ProPlayerInsiders.com, a website that essentially operates as an arm of the NFLPA.
Smith believes that the league should provide all information regarding the investigation to the union. “As of yet, they haven’t turned over anything that we would consider to be direct evidence of player involvement in a ‘pay to injure’ scheme that we could consider for discipline,” Smith said. “It’s very hard to have a productive discussion about punishment when one side has kept, to itself, all the information.”
Smith hopes that the information will be provided before discipline is imposed on any players.
“It’s a very, at least from our perspective, a very unfair situation where you have a number of allegations floating back and forth in the press,” Smith said. “There certainly appears to be some information that’s been provided to the media about certain individuals’ involvement and references to everything from emails to Powerpoints. It’s difficult for those players to be in a situation where they can hardly defend themselves from unsubstantiated accusations that are being made in the public.”
Smith is right, to an extent. On one hand, negative information about players like Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been leaked by the league. On the other hand, these aren’t accusations — these are conclusions that the league has made, based in large part on admissions from members of the Saints organization.
Smith also addressed for the first time last week’s ill-advised decision by NFL Network, which is owned by the league, to permit discussion on its air regarding the identity of the person who blew the whistle in 2011, which allowed the bounty system to finally be exposed. “We have an unfortunate circumstance now where someone from the National Football League, or at least an affiliate of the National Football League, accused another player of providing information, or being the so-called ‘whistleblower,’” Smith said. “There are accusations flying back and forth about who provided the information, and who didn’t provide the information.”
The NFL presumably will provide the information in conjunction with the appeals that the players who are punished inevitably will file. It’s unclear whether the league has any advance obligation to do so, it should. This is an unprecedented situation in which the league and the union need to work together. The NFL’s failure to cooperate now makes it less likely that the NFLPA will do anything other than fight later.