When the declaration of former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove was published on Monday, many in the media (including ESPN) interpreted it to mean that Hargrove had been told to lie by Saints coaches.
Though that may be a fair interpretation of his words, he never said that he was told to lie. And now he’s sounding off about the NFL’s decision to characterize his words as evidence of the existence of a bounty program — and as proof that he lied about it to investigators in 2010.
“I’m disappointed that ‘the Declaration’ was leaked,” Hargrove told ESPN. “The intent of ‘the Declaration’ was to let the NFL know exactly what happened in March of 2010. Call me naive, but I did not expect them to publicize the fact that I had sent them ‘the Declaration.’ But since they did, and because they grossly mischaracterized my words, it obviously became a hot item and subsequently was leaked by someone.
“I do not know who leaked it, but I would have preferred for it to remain private between the NFL and me.”
The NFL first mentioned the Hargrove declaration in the statement announcing the suspensions of four players, explaining that it “established not only the existence of the program with the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it.” The next day, NFL “independent” counsel Mary Jo White said that the “thrust” of the declaration was Hargrove’s acknowledgment of “the nature of the program and his participation in it.”
The land rush for Hargrove’s declaration didn’t begin, however, until we reported that the letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell to Hargrove informing Hargrove of the suspension explained that the declaration was submitted by the NFLPA, not harvested by the NFL. That letter was attached by the NFLPA to one of the grievances filed in connection with the effort to steer the appeal process away from Commissioner Roger Goodell. Once that information became known, it became imperative to learn what the Hargrove declaration did — and didn’t — say.
Unfortunately, Hargrove’s statement to ESPN doesn’t clear up the question of whether it’s fair to infer that he lied when he was interviewed by the NFL in 2010, given that he claims he was told what to say by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and current Saints assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt. On March 8, however, Hargrove issued a statement in which he seemed to deny that his hit on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC title game was motivated by a bounty: “I have made many mistakes in my life and have paid dearly for some of them, and the late hit and the comments were both mistakes, in my opinion. But players all over the league do the same thing every Sunday, make late hits and say stupid things. But I can say with absolute certainty that neither the late hit nor the comment have anything whatsoever to do with the issue being so hotly discussed in the media.”
Moreover, to the extent that Hargrove claims that the declaration was submitted to assist the NFL’s investigation, the fact that it was signed on April 13, 2012 — after the appeals of the discipline imposed on Vitt, coach Sean Payton, G.M. Mickey Loomis, and the Saints were resolved — makes it useless as to the discipline imposed on the non-players.
The truth possibly is that Hargrove and/or the NFLPA believed that the contents of his declaration would serve to exonerate Hargrove for any and all responsibility, since when interviewed by the NFL he was merely doing what he had been told to do. If that was the goal, it to date has backfired, prompting the NFL to conclude — rightly or wrongly — that Hargrove has admitted to the existence of the bounty program and that he lied to NFL Security when questioned about it.
Even if he never said that.