Feeling backed into a corner during a morning and afternoon of bounty developments that had some wondering whether the NFL was ready to tap out, the league decided to get off the mat and unload.
Monday’s meeting with 12 members of the media wasn’t planned in advance. It happened based on the events of the day.
“There was no invite list,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello told PFT. “Everyone knew the hearing was today. Whoever showed up attended our briefing.”
But here’s the thing. No one knew that the “briefing” would entail having outside counsel Mary Jo White re-enact her presentation of evidence from the bounty hearings.
“We didn’t decide to do it until the day unfolded,” Aiello said. “We accommodated those who showed up, same as we do for those who cover league meetings.”
While it’s possible the league always intended to conduct the session for anyone who showed up, it would have made sense for the league to discreetly publicize that information in order to get more reporters to show up. (I gladly would have postponed by annual Moon River physical for a Father’s Day Weekend trip to New York.) And so the explanation seems to be true — which makes it fair to wonder what specifically made the league decide to invite the 12 reporters upstairs (there’s a Mae West reference in there somewhere, but I’m already feeling old enough without doing that) for an encore performance.
The league likely decided that it has beaten around the bush for too long, and that the time had come to reclaim the upper hand in the P.R. battle regarding the question of whether bounty evidence truly exists. Though questions persist regarding the quality of the raw evidence (especially since the league still hasn’t shown anyone any of it), it makes much more sense to disclose items like the list of contributions made to the bounty pool before the 2009 NFC title game and the video in which former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove says “give me my money” after linebackers coach/assistant head coach Joe Vitt tells a group of players that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre may have a broken leg.
Instead of playing fast and loose with the contents of Hargrove’s declaration, with the substance of a September 2011 email from Mike Ornstein, and with a supposed “smoking gun” ledger that the league curiously chose not to use in the appeal hearings (even though most of the pages produced to the NFLPA were irrelevant to the case), the league should have just released the information from the January 2010 game against the Vikings.
Of course, it’s possible that the league’s goal was to suggest that the bounty aspect of the program extended far beyond the game that launched the Saints into Super Bowl XLIV. Regardless of the reason, if the league would have focused on proving what the league easily can prove from the outset, it would have been harder for the players or anyone else to claim that there’s no evidence of bounties.
Whether what the league has disclosed proves anything remains in dispute. And we’ll give attorney Peter Ginsberg an opportunity to respond to the evidence that the NFL has released during Tuesday’s PFT Live, which gets rolling at 12:00 p.m. ET. We’ve also invited the league to designate someone to join us.