As the disclosure of bounty evidence to a dozen reporters continues to reverberate, it’s important to understand what was — and wasn’t — shown to the hand-picked representatives of the NFL media.
Though full details remain incomplete and subject to dispute, given that the 12 members of the media may have perceived things differently, Peter King of Sports Illustrated writes that the reporters witnessed the same presentation that the suspended players (other than Jonathan Vilma) had seen. Based on the transcript of the morning session, the players were due to hear a summary of the relevant evidence from outside counsel Mary Jo White.
That means the reporters didn’t hear directly from the witnesses. Instead, the league provided a summary from a highly-skilled former prosecutor. White also, per multiple reports, posed questions to NFL Security chief Jeff Miller.
So it was like a grand jury proceeding, but instead of calling witnesses the prosecutor told the grand jurors what the witnesses would have said. With supplementation from the cop who ran the investigation.
It’s an important distinction, if the ultimate goal is to get to the truth. With respect to the Anthony Hargrove declaration, the Mike Ornstein email, and the ledger that was sufficiently important to be leaked to the media but apparently not sufficiently important to make its way into the evidence given to the players, a reasonable person could conclude that the NFL has a habit of subtly (or not) twisting the evidence to fit a preordained conclusion.
Thus, when White told the reporters that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams told investigators that he “rolled the dice with player safety and someone could have been maimed,” it’s impossible to know whether Williams made that admission during a soul-purging epiphany — or whether after finally being caught in years of lies regarding a pay-for-performance program and fearful for his career he simply nodded his head when investigators said, “Do you realize that you were rolling the dice with player safety and someone could have been maimed?”
There’s also a chance that “rolling the dice” didn’t relate to a bounty system but to the cartoonish language Williams used to get his players motivated. If so, Williams was truly “rolling the dice” that someone would take his urgings seriously and whip out a Gillooly stick.
More importantly, lawyer Peter Ginsberg claims that Williams has since “retracted directly and affirmatively and without equivocation any claims they previously have made about a bounty program,” which remains fundamentally different from a pay-for-performance program.
Then there’s the brand-new contention, more than three months after the situation first arose, that Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt personally contributed $5,000 to the pay-for-performance/bounty pool prior to the 2009 NFC title game. If that’s true, why did Vitt try to argue that Williams was a “rogue coach” during Vitt’s appeal hearing? More importantly, how did Vitt not get at least a one-year suspension if he, like linebacker Jonathan Vilma, was offering money to a player for inflicting injury on an opponent?
So before any of the 12 reporters or those who follow their writings swallow the hook, let’s make sure that we remember what the reporters saw. And what they didn’t see.
UPDATE 8:38 p.m. ET: Here’s a piece of evidence that the 12 reporters surely didn’t see. Lawyer David Cornwell tells PFT that his client, Joe Vitt, never was accused of contributing money to the pay-for-performance/bounty pool.