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Failure to participate in appeal process could come back to haunt players

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[Editor's note:  The eight-page, single-spaced letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell affirming the suspensions of the four players accused of involvement in the Saints' bounty program raises several intriguing points, arguments, and circumstances.  We're breaking them up into separate posts in order to ensure that no one throw a shoe at their monitors.]

The players suspended for involvement in the alleged Saints bounty program decided not to participate in the appeal process, and now the NFL will try to make them sorely regret that decision.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita opted to attend but not to participate in the June 18 hearing.  They didn’t testify, they didn’t introduce exhibits, and they didn’t provide any substantive proof or evidence or information that points to their professed innocence.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s eight-page, single-spaced letter upholding the suspensions seizes on the failure to mount a defense.  “Throughout the entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions,” Goodell writes.  “Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process.”

Goodell also points out that the players’ lawyers chose “not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested).”

The decision not to pepper Jeff Miller and Joe Hummel with questions represents a lost opportunity to emphasize the perceived unfairness of the process.  A skillful interrogator could have grilled Miller and Hummel on a wide range of issues, including every flaw in the evidence submitted by the league in support of the suspensions, some of the other evidence that didn’t make its way into the packet of 16 exhibits, and every other relevant aspect of the investigation, including the identity of the unnamed witnesses, the specific information harvested from key witnesses not present at the hearing (like former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams), and the reasons for Hummel’s decision to resign during the investigation.

If Miller and/or Hummel had opted to refuse to answer certain questions (and if Goodell had allowed them to do so), the players possibly would have emerged with a more persuasive basis for arguing that the league’s process wasn’t truly impartial or fair.

Instead, the NFL now has a strong piece of evidence to which it will repeatedly point when accused in court of not being fair to the players.  The league will argue, at every turn, that the players didn’t give Goodell a fair chance to be fair.

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40 Responses to “Failure to participate in appeal process could come back to haunt players”
  1. roadbiscuit says: Jul 6, 2012 3:19 PM

    Cagey semantics. Hargrove’s agent says Hargrove set up a meeting for April 3 and the league didn’t follow through. That was before penalties were announced and before they claimed that no player had agreed to meet.

  2. conorwhi says: Jul 6, 2012 3:21 PM

    They’re guilty.

  3. jpb12 says: Jul 6, 2012 3:23 PM

    Goodell is the Commissioner. Not a CEO or President.

    That means he’s the judge and the NFLPA signed off on it.

    Players are showing him contempt.

  4. eaglesw00t says: Jul 6, 2012 3:23 PM

    The players were focused on “Phase 2″ from the day that they heard they were getting suspended.

    They never once intended to participate in the appeal process because they see it as unfair. From the amount of time that was given, I honestly do think Goodell was willing to decrease or remove suspensions because he didnt want to be the bad guy, and knew his evidence wasnt the greatest after further review.

    The players failed to do anything other than file lawsuits and complain to the press. Had they actually done what the CBA structure details, I honestly believe Vilma would be the only one with a suspension right now.

    I believe they get what they deserve though. If they have a problem with the suspensions, they should have appeared in person to dispute them, instead of ignoring it, and now taking it to court.

  5. clickablecontent says: Jul 6, 2012 3:26 PM

    This is exactly what hurts their case. Per the CBA process the NFL is abiding by, the suspensions are not final until the appeals process. “Appeal” is a misnomer in that regard. Because of their refusal to participate in the process, the players (and we fans) will never know if Goodell could very well have been open to a reduction in suspensions or if the process truly doesn’t work. My observation is that the NFLPA’s intent, all along, has been to subvert the disciplinary clauses of the CBA legally, in lieu of negotiating during the lockout, and they’re risking these players to do it.

  6. nflfan555 says: Jul 6, 2012 3:30 PM

    Roadbiscuit, not buying it… If my aunt had nuts she would be my uncle :)

  7. myschwartzisbiggerthenyours says: Jul 6, 2012 3:31 PM

    “They didn’t testify, they didn’t introduce exhibits, and they didn’t provide any substantive proof or evidence or information that points to their professed innocence.”

    And I wonder why that is.

  8. gameproper says: Jul 6, 2012 3:31 PM

    Man, the amount of haters here ASTOUNDS me. all of you are SO certain that the Saints had a pay-to-injure (AKA bounty) Program yet noe have you have seen proof. You are all sheep that the NFL loves because they know you will side with whatever they say. but i ask you. WHERE IS THE PROOF?
    Yes i heard Greg Williams pre game speech and i agree that he may have crossed a line (i still think its debatable) in tellng his defense to strike their opponent where they are weakest. this is NOt proof of a pay-to-injure scheme however. Im sorry it just isn’t.

    Funny how the NFL milked Hargroves “give me my money!” for so long ….and now the commissioner is saying that it wasnt Hargrove..NOBODY Sees anything wrong with this?

    If the NFL had as much evidence as they claim to, this whole fiasco whould have been shut down along time ago. We wouldnt be watching Drew on Letterman and i wouldnt be here reading all you hatin @$$ fans’ arrogant judgement of the Saints.

    btw im a dolphins fan i could care less about the Saints but when i see so much ignorance i gotta step up and educate

  9. jason1980 says: Jul 6, 2012 3:54 PM

    What amazes me about some of you haters is that it doesn’t matter to you that the NFL doesn’t have evidence to suspend these players, your hatred of the Saints for being a dominant force in the league dictates your every response. If Goodell is not stopped now, every team and player in the league will be at his mercy from here on out. When did NFL fans lose their humanity for what’s right and what’s wrong? We get it, you hate the Saints, all winning franchises are hated, but this is about more than the Saints, your favorite team and player will be next. I firmly believe that if someone does something wrong, they should pay, but we don’t live under a dictatorship, show the accused and the public what they have done wrong. A commissioner’s conclusions about what he thinks was done wrong always has to be supported by ironclad evidence. Show us what these players have done wrong to justifies these harsh suspensions, and this circus would be over. I’m just as pissed with the owners as I am Goodell, they are equally responsible for where we are with this mess. Shame on the NFL and the 31 owners that are standing by like wall flowers as the institution they built suffered from this assault on it’s credibility. Shame on you!!!

  10. kuhnyoudigit says: Jul 6, 2012 4:03 PM

    I hope you see some ignorance, as well as irony, in your own post.

    I hope for your sake you’re twelve years old, otherwise you have a serious learning disability.

  11. atwatercrushesokoye says: Jul 6, 2012 4:06 PM

    Gameproper: what about Joe Vitt’s lawyer David Cornwell coming out and saying that the bounty program was one rogue coach (Williams) and that Payton and Loomis went to Williams before the divisional playoff game and told him to stop the BOUNTY program? Is he an nfl shill as well?

    Saints fans can call it a pay for performance program if they want (Fujita came right out and said that existed) but the truth is that’s illegal, the nfl told them to stop in 2009 and they didn’t, they kept on going, they also lied about it and tried to cover it up (Payton told the assistant coaches to “get your ducks in a row”) you can call it whatever you want but by their own admissions they’re guilty.

  12. razic3k says: Jul 6, 2012 4:06 PM

    You would think the NFLPA and players would wise up and hire better lawyers by now.

  13. wallacejay says: Jul 6, 2012 4:13 PM

    @gameproper

    You should educate yourself first. This has nothing to do with hate. This is basically a big game of poker between the league & the players. Those that have have been accused of running the program have folded either because they know the league has them dead to rights, or because they just want to get on with everything. Those that have been accused of participating in the program are still in the game, but not because they’ve called the league’s bluff by participating and refuting the accusations; they’re basically stalling trying to get the league to show its full hand before they call, which is not going to happen.

    If they want to know what evidence the league has, they need to participate in the hearings and stop filing additional suits.

  14. thegreatgabbert says: Jul 6, 2012 4:19 PM

    “Who…who are you….wretched apparition?”.

    “I am the ghost of failure to participate, Jonathan Vilma….Woooooooo!”.

  15. thecgroup says: Jul 6, 2012 4:21 PM

    why would you participate if your employer said it had 50,000 pages of documents, but only gave you 20% of that, or… the fact that they knew full well that “Give me my money” proves nothing, or that they were not allowed to contact certain people…

    And for the final… If these guys are inocent, its actually impossible for them to submit evidence that they didnt do something…

    This so called “INVESTIGATION” is very amateur and I also have the right to say that, as I have conducted three investigations on NFL players myself….

  16. wunsa says: Jul 6, 2012 4:46 PM

    Many reasons why they didn’t. Players were not informes of fhe nature or reasons in advance of the initial suspension announcements. Players asked for the evidence behind their suspensions and were denied access prior to the appeals. Hargrove tried to visit Goodell in April and the league office did not follow thru on the arrangements. Hargroves “statement” releases by the league was twisted into allegations he denies making.

    When the league has clearly not followed agreed upon processes under the CBA then for the players to continue in that process would only serve the league by givin the appearance that the players were OK with the leagues multiple violations.

  17. geauxjay says: Jul 6, 2012 5:06 PM

    How can you respond to and defend yourself against 49,800 pages of evidence they’re not allowed to see?

    Didn’t Hargrove prove that the video wasn’t of him, and Goodell punished him anyway, basically because “we have other evidence?” Well, how can he further defend himself if he doesn’t know what it is?

  18. bearnmind says: Jul 6, 2012 5:07 PM

    We have all seen the same evidence and formed opinions based on how we interpret it. As a reasonable person I have serious doubts about the credibility of the evidence and the investigation and believe a new investigation by an impartial party is the best way to resolve this. I think its important to get to the truth since this impacts people’s livelihoods and careers. What I find amazing is the absolute certainty those who think guilt has been proven have and the vitriol directed towards those who disagree and towards the players.

  19. canuckinamerica says: Jul 6, 2012 5:52 PM

    To gameproper.

    You are going to “educate”? Doubt you graduated law school with Goodell. In fact….have a hard time thinking you may be an educator of any sort. Goodell played his hand as well as any lawyer could. The NFLPA were merely out-smarted. Time to admit defeat on this issue and move to something which should be even more important to the membership (and not just a few players). ie. concussions and permanent disabilities.

  20. jade amor says: Jul 6, 2012 5:55 PM

    bearnmind says:Jul 6, 2012 5:07 PM

    We have all seen the same evidence and formed opinions based on how we interpret it. As a reasonable person I have serious doubts about the credibility of the evidence and the investigation and believe a new investigation by an impartial party is the best way to resolve this. I think its important to get to the truth since this impacts people’s livelihoods and careers. What I find amazing is the absolute certainty those who think guilt has been proven have and the vitriol directed towards those who disagree and towards the players.
    ____________________________________

    Pot, meet kettle… LMFAO

    Though I dont disagree with most of what you said, you missed one important piece. Yes everyone has formed their own opinion, but you cited the vitriol toward those that believe the players are innocent. That is a 2 way street my friend. Look through the comments that basically all say if you disagree with me you are an idiot, lol.

    Personally, I think the NFLs evidence is flawed at best, BUT, if you were accused of doing something that you know you didnt do, what would you do when you had your appeal? Would you sit silent? Would your lawyers sit silent? I doubt it. Plus, if you are completely innocent, who cares if you have seen 1 page of evidence, or 50,000. Innocent is innocent. The fact that the players talk a big game in public, but sit silent in private, doesnt tell the story of falsely accused

  21. truthhurtstoo says: Jul 6, 2012 5:58 PM

    “your hatred of the Saints for being a dominant force in the league”…

    oh jason1980…. a little self-important aren’t you?
    Most fans remember wells the Aint’s with their bags on their head for decades. So, to assume that the rest of the world has thoughts of “the who dat dominant force” is absurd.

    We just think that those repsonsible should be held accountible.

  22. korikill says: Jul 6, 2012 6:57 PM

    That whole ‘they’re innocent, so how do you prove it in court? You can’t, that’s why they didn’t show up’ argument is just so much bull! In courtrooms every day, the ‘innocent’ show up to defend themselves. If they didn’t, they would be found guilty every time.
    Every time.
    And for the record, that’s the dumbest argument ever, just stop.

  23. commandercornpone says: Jul 6, 2012 7:37 PM

    if they didnt like “the process”, take that up with duh smith.

    they had their chance. they, in essence, “took the fifth”.

  24. ernie ernie says: Jul 6, 2012 7:38 PM

    The players agents plan all along was to get into the Minneapolis court full of left wing liberal judges who can freeze all this and wreak havoc on the NFL. They are all hoping this process is frozen in time for several years until a final settlement is reached.
    To me this sucks, what is the point of having a commish and a penalty position.

  25. gtodriver says: Jul 6, 2012 8:19 PM

    jason1980 says:

    “We get it, you hate the Saints, all winning franchises are hated, but this is about more than the Saints, your favorite team and player will be next.”

    The Saints aren’t a “winning franchise”.

    The Saints have never had more than 3 winning seasons in a row and only have 11 winning seasons in their entire history starting in 1967.

    Heck, even in the last 20 years, they’ve only managed a winning season 7 times.

    I actually liked the Saints before learning of the bounties. I used to like Drew Brees before he started acting like a prima donna.

    Time to admit that your coaches and players are responsible for their own predicament and stop making excuses about people “hating” your team because of their brief winning record

  26. clickablecontent says: Jul 6, 2012 8:21 PM

    A little glib for commentors who use the term “haters” to write some of the most vitriolic posts.

  27. palinforpresidentofnorthkorea says: Jul 6, 2012 8:40 PM

    Are you sure the players were represented by a real attorney? Sounds like they got really bad advice that may have cost them any chance of winning.

  28. packhawk04 says: Jul 6, 2012 9:26 PM

    Why did the players never show or even attempt to prove their “innocence” to goodell? Why did drew brees blame the coaching staff for the bounty program, and then say one never existed when the players started suing? Why are the saints coaches mum on this? Sean payton is gone for a year, it doesnt matter what he does, hes only out for a year. Where is his lawsuit? Oh, thats right. Its all BS from the NFL because drew brees says so.

    And we’re the blind ones….

  29. gavriloprincip33 says: Jul 6, 2012 10:46 PM

    canuckinamerica says:
    Jul 6, 2012 5:52 PM
    To gameproper.

    You are going to “educate”? Doubt you graduated law school with Goodell. In fact….have a hard time thinking you may be an educator of any sort. Goodell played his hand as well as any lawyer could. The NFLPA were merely out-smarted. Time to admit defeat on this issue and move to something which should be even more important to the membership (and not just a few players). ie. concussions and permanent disabilities.

    ————

    Just to be clear, Goodell is not a lawyer; he has an econ degree from a small liberal arts school…

    That said, he has all the lawyers that he needs to do exactly what you said – outsmart the NFLPA…

    Why the silence from the GM, HC and DC?

  30. cliffordc05 says: Jul 6, 2012 11:00 PM

    A vigorous defense against the charges should also have included as many references as possible to the fact the league withheld evidence as long as possible (and possibly longer than permitted under the rules). It does not matter if you think the players are guilty or innocent in this case. The legal tactic /strategy of not participating in a process that was approved during collective bargaining is questionable at best.

  31. jason1980 says: Jul 6, 2012 11:06 PM

    See there, you boys can’t get past your “hatred”. If the Saints weren’t a winning franchises, there certainly wouldn’t be all of this brew-ha-ha for a team that’s irrelevant. The Saints get more press than any team in the league, oh yeah….that’s because they have only 3 winning season and are a losing franchise. SMH Lol. You boys are so transparent, I sometimes feel like superman. See ya in the playoffs, that is if your teams are good enough.

  32. acetw says: Jul 6, 2012 11:13 PM

    If this was me, no way I would participate in a process that had been publicly loaded against me, and admittedly (by the judge and jury) predetermined that I was guilty.
    It would’ve been a no win/no way, so I’d rather take my chances in a court of law where there are no perceived or predetermined outcomes.
    Goodell is an economist and is not at all qualified to be a judge of anything.

  33. acetw says: Jul 6, 2012 11:22 PM

    jade amor says:
    Jul 6, 2012 5:55 PM
    Personally, I think the NFLs evidence is flawed at best, BUT, if you were accused of doing something that you know you didnt do, what would you do when you had your appeal? Would you sit silent? Would your lawyers sit silent? I doubt it.
    ——————————-
    If we were forced to sit in front of the judge who had already vociferously proclaimed our guilt (and had stretched the reaches of ANY imagination in his ‘evidence to get to that proclamation) then yes, I would sit silent knowing that there was another way. Federal/impartial courts.

    jade amor says:
    Jul 6, 2012 5:55 PM
    Plus, if you are completely innocent, who cares if you have seen 1 page of evidence, or 50,000. Innocent is innocent. The fact that the players talk a big game in public, but sit silent in private, doesnt tell the story of falsely accused.
    ————————————
    I would care, since the evidence was gathered with a presumption of guilt and therefore completely out of line with normal reasoning. The players only ‘sat silent’ when they knew they would be fighting an unwinnable fight. Once/if it gets to an unbiased courtroom, they’ll no longer be silent, believe me.

  34. cwwgk says: Jul 6, 2012 11:34 PM

    Jason1980 says:

    “I’m just as pissed with the owners as I am Goodell, they are equally responsible for where we are with this mess. Shame on the NFL and the 31 owners that are standing by like wall flowers as the institution they built suffered from this assault on it’s credibility. Shame on you!!!”

    Um, I’m assuming the owner not on your “shame” list is that of the owner, Tom Benson. As with the other owners, Goodell answers to him.

    But has Benson publicly disputed the NFL’s allegations? No. The Saints instead issued an apology in which it specifically referenced bounty programs.

    When Jerry Jones and Dan Snyder got hit with salary cap discipline they appealed. Did Benson after getting fined $500,000 and the loss of draft picks? No. To the contrary, Mr. Benson hired the former director of the FBI to investigate his own franchise.

    As with every other owner in the league, Mr. Benson has not taken one action against Goodell. His silence is deafening.

  35. j0esixpack says: Jul 6, 2012 11:40 PM

    Florio summed it up nicely.

    They offered no evidence to prove their innocence.

    In Goodell’s court its guilty until proven innocent – and if they were unable to disprove a negative, they must be guilty.

    I wonder if the judge will go for that.

  36. bulldogslc says: Jul 6, 2012 11:54 PM

    There must be something I’m not understanding here. Don’t you appeal your disciplainary action first and formost? Maybe life indeed is different for rich people, but in every company I have been working for you appeal before you litigate….

  37. drwbrsdmndsnxplntn says: Jul 7, 2012 12:41 AM

    Dew trees commands end exclamation! Did I do it right?

  38. flsnupe says: Jul 7, 2012 1:41 AM

    Send me an email as to why my posts seem to disappear whenever I let the NFL have it on this site.

    Is it against the site’s rules to point out that the public or should I say many visitors to this site seem to bow down to whatever the man has to say against people? Or that the lack of challenges to information is quite alarming when reading this site? Or was because I stated how easy it will be for a mastermind to overcome the world with the sheep mentality that our society has seem to adapt during the information age?

    NFL has constantly overreached. First its the salary cap mess where teams are punished for spending, but teams that did not spend a $ are rewarded during an UNCAPPED YEAR?! Or the sweeping under the rug of the Patriots filming other teams practices? Maybe I offended you when I stated that the so called evidence is a joke at best, and a sham that most of us on this site has accepted as truth?

    Whatever the reason, I hope we as a society get smarter and stop believing everything we read on the Internet because some big typhoon said it was so. Very dangerous to bow down that way.

  39. bearnmind says: Jul 7, 2012 7:24 AM

    Jade amor

    I agree there is vitriol on both sides. Im not arguing the evidence nothing I say or point out is nor more likely to change your opinion than you are to change mine that the evidence us weak. My point was that reasonable people see the same evidence and the NFL and players’ action and each side has valid points. However in my opinion you always err on the side of innocence until proven guilty and I believe the evidence is sufficiently flawed and the investigation handled so poorly that as long as the NFL is involved it cant be fixed…hence the need for an impartial party and/or new investigation. Remember Gooddell publicly stated before the suspensions were meted out they were guilty of a pay to injure bounty program. Have you ever tried yo convince someone who went on national TV and stated you were guilty to chmage their mind and go back on TV and admit he was wrong? More importantly exactly how do you prove you’re innocent of doing something? Its not as if you’re establishing a record during 2009-2011 of things you didn’t do. Sorry I digress….all I really meant to say was reasonable people can disagree in a civil manner.

  40. majbobby says: Jul 7, 2012 8:11 AM

    Once again Cry me a freaking river. The Commish has this power as was collectively bargained in the CBA. Players should not have signed if they didn’t like it.

    Hey owners start lawsuits on getting more money back from players.

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