[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 will fall asleep at their desks.]
After the June 18 hearing in the bounty case, two of the key witnesses publicly disputed portions of the evidence on which the NFL relied in making its case. Interim head coach Joe Vitt reacted aggressively to transcribed typewritten notes attributing to him a $5,000 pledge to the Brett Favre bounty pool prior to the 2009 NFC title game, and Mike Ornstein disputed in an interview with PFT that he “corroborated” Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s pledge of $10,000 to the Favre bounty.
Thereafter, NFLPA lawyer Jeffrey Kessler submitted a letter to the league office regarding the comments from Vitt and Ornstein.
In the July 3 letter upholding the suspensions, Commissioner Roger Goodell addressed — and ultimately dismissed — the comments from Vitt and Ornstein.
Vitt’s comments regarding the contents of the notes of the Favre bounty pledge amounts called into question the overall credibility of the notes, which also document the alleged $10,000 offer from Vilma. Goodell says that the “exhibit reflects the handwritten notes of an eyewitness to the meeting at which Mr. Vilma made the pledge regarding Favre; it is fully consistent with what three witnesses told NFL Security about Mr. Vilma’s statements at the meeting.”
In other words, Goodell is taking the position that because three people corroborated the contents of the notes as to Vilma, the presence of a major flaw in the notes gave the NFL no concern whatsoever about the overall reliability of the notes.
The three witnesses to whom Goodell’s letter refers were former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, an unnamed witness (possibly the person who made the notes), and Ornstein, who has since said he never said Vilma pledged any money to the Favre bounty. In response to Ornstein’s remarks, Goodell explains that “at least two other credible witnesses confirmed that Vilma made such an offer.”
That’s fine, but before Ornstein told PFT — unequivocally and repeatedly and at times profanely — that he didn’t tell the NFL that Vilma pledged money to a bounty on Favre, the NFL considered Ornstein to be a credible witness.
With Williams not talking publicly (rumors continue to persist that he nearly did, but that he was blocked by his lawyer) and with the other witness still unknown, it’s impossible to determine whether the league’s representations regarding the versions supplied by these other two “credible witnesses” contain a flaw similar to the one that Ornstein’s version now contains.
In short, Vitt’s comments were disregarded because three witnesses confirmed Vilma’s pledge of $10,000 to the Favre bounty, and the comments from one of those three witnesses were disregarded because, well, there are still two other witnesses. And, based on the tone and content of the July 3 letter, no apparent effort has been made by the league office to re-confirm that Williams and the unnamed witness will continue to stick by their guns, even after Ornstein publicly has said that the league has gotten it all wrong.
And that’s why it’s critical to get to the truth, no matter what the truth may be.