As the NFLPA deals with the inherent conflict between the interests of its constituents who funded and/or received payments from the Saints’ bounty system and players who were the targets of attempts at injury in exchange for cash, the union has taken steps to ensure that the men who are accused of participating in the bounty system will be properly represented, in any forum.
The Associated Press reports that the NFLPA has informed players of the possibility that criminal charges will be pursued. In preparation for this possibility, the NFLPA has hired outside counsel to represent the players.
The union also has suggested that both an NFLPA representative and the lawyer be present for any interviews that may occur with NFL investigators.
On one hand, the union’s move can be interpreted as an exercise in extreme prudence and caution. While plenty of speculation has occurred regarding possible IRS interest in undeclared income arising from bounty payments and the potential application of state or federal conspiracy, assault, and/or battery laws, there’s currently no hint of any forthcoming prosecution. (That said, there’s a chance that a grand jury already has been secretly convened, or at least planned, for the consideration of indictments.)
On the other hand, the use of outside counsel and the sensitivity to criminal prosecution could be a strategy for stonewalling the NFL’s investigative and disciplinary process via the repeated assertion of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to any specific questions regarding a player’s direct involvement in the three-year bounty program.
Regardless of the reason for the move, it highlights the gravity of the situation.
The league’s reports state that 22 to 27 defensive players were involved, and the only player mentioned by name is linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whom the league contends offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game.