In a wide-ranging press conference held outside the NFLPA’s offices on Thursday, executive director DeMaurice Smith addressed the bounty allegations against four players: Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita. Smith emphasized a point that the union has been making for several weeks — and that the NFL has yet to rectify, privately or publicly.
“We have not seen one piece of evidence that would show that one of those players got paid to target a player and injure him and get him out of the game,” Smith said.
There very well may be ample evidence to support that conclusion. Every line of those 50,000 pages generated by the investigation may implicate every man who played for the Saints’ defense from 2009 through 2011. But until the NFL shares the information with the NFLPA and/or with the media, there’s no way to confirm that the evidence exists.
Smith also addressed the contention that the NFLPA has a conflict of interest when it comes to representing the rights of the players accused of acting on bounties and the players who were the targets. Though unions routinely must balance potentially competing interests whenever a member of the rank and file is accused of doing something to a coworker, the conflict of interest doesn’t arise unless and until there’s evidence that one employee infringed on the rights of another employee.
Again, there could be a mountain of evidence on that point. But until the evidence is shared, there’s no way to know whether the NFL’s conclusions are accurate, or whether the NFL has incorrectly concluded that a pay-for-performance program coupled with tough talk in the locker room translated to a band of assassins who were treating their union brethren like the Mean Machine treated the guards.