With Commissioner Roger Goodell setting the bounty appeal hearings for Monday, June 18, questions linger regarding the procedures to be used and, most importantly, whether the NFL will share raw evidence of the bounty system with the players who are challenging their suspensions: Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove.
Per a source with knowledge of the proceedings, the league is required by the CBA to disclose the evidence it plans to rely upon during the appeal hearings three days in advance of the sessions.
That’s not a blanket requirement that the league open its files. Instead, the league must produce only what it plans to use.
Thus, if there is evidence that points to innocence, the league isn’t required to give it to the players and the NFLPA.
Though, in theory, the league could keep its intended evidence simple in light of the fact that Goodell has full authority over the appeals, the final outcome most likely will be subject to attack in court. The more slanted and biased the process seems, the more effective the players arguments for relief will become. Thus, if the league holds back evidence, the suspensions could be more vulnerable to being overturned by a federal judge.
Given that the league plans to conduct all four appeal hearings on the same day, it’s unlikely that the NFL will use a lengthy, complex presentation of evidence. Few if any trials can be completed in one day; the idea that four hearings involving hotly disputed allegations can be conducted on June 18 suggests that the procedures are more perfunctory than meaningful.
The players will have a much better sense of how detailed the process will be next Friday, when the NFL hands over the evidence that will be used.