Regardless of what anyone thinks the 2009 NFC title game sideline video shows (or doesn’t show), it doesn’t conclusively demonstrate the identity of the person who utters the key words “give me my money” after assistant head coach Joe Vitt tells member of the Saints defense that Vikings quarterback Brett Favre may have a broken leg.
Still, the league stridently believes, despite an inability to see the mouth, lips, face, or head of former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove when “give me my money” is uttered, that Hargrove defintely said the words. It would make much more sense for the league to simply claim that someone from the Saints defense said it, which constitutes general proof that someone on the Saints defense knew about the existence of a bounty on Brett Favre.
That’s precisely what NFL general counsel Jeff Pash was expected to say during a Friday appearance on PFT Live. And that seems to be what he started to say when explaining the league’s interpretation. But then it subtly changed.
“What that video tape rather clearly demonstrates is two things,” Pash said. “One, there was a program and it corroborates rather clearly that there was a program where a player could be rewarded for making a play that resulted in an injury to an opponent – you were basically making that point during the break. Second, it demonstrates Mr. Hargrove’s awareness of the program and his understanding that it existed, and it demonstrates that his statements to our investigators in early 2010 denying the program and saying there was nothing like that in existence were false. That is the basis on which the Commissioner imposed discipline on Mr. Hargrove.”
Assuming that it was defensive tackle Remi Ayodele who said “give me my money” (and not, for example, some guy off camera who was trying to get his change from the hot dog vendor), Pash’s initial observation is correct. His second point continues to depend, however, on a finding that Hargrove and no one else said, “Give me my money.” And the video simply does not prove that.
The flaw could be fatal to the league’s case against Hargrove, if/when the NFLPA files litigation advancing theories that allow a judge to get to the merits of the case. The 16 exhibits produced by the NFL (which Mike Freeman of CBSSports.com has graded, one by one) contain no mention or suggestion or hint of Hargrove paying money in, taking money out, or otherwise being aware of the bounty program. The only way the league can prove that Hargrove knew about the bounty program and that he in turn lied to investigators is to prove that Hargrove and no one else said, “Give me my money.”
The declaration he submitted in April, contrary to the league’s interpretation of it, doesn’t contain an admission that Hargrove lied. Instead, it shows that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and assistant head coach Joe Vitt told him to say that there was no bounty program, and that Hargrove complied — without commentary on whether what he was saying was the truth. Pash’s comments strongly suggest that, if Hargrove didn’t say, “Give me my money,” there’s no proof that Hargrove’s story to investigators was untrue.
Regarding the question of whether the league believes Saints players deliberately intended to injure opponents, Pash explained that the NFL never tries to determine intent. “We have always consistently, going back for decades, going back to when Pete Rozelle was Commissioner, not made intent a part of the disciplinary decision because you can’t read someone’s mind,” Pash said. “You can only look at the objective evidence.”
That’s fine. But it appears in this case that the NFL is trying to read Hargrove’s mind. And, in turn, to put words in his mouth.
At a time when Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma already has filed a defamation claim regarding the things the league has publicly said about his involvement in the situation, it wouldn’t be a shock if Hargrove eventually does the same thing.