As Judge Helen G. Berrigan tries to sift through conflicting submissions regarding a specific factual question she raised last week with the parties in the bounty cases, there’s one important point to keep in mind regarding the affidavit from Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.
Its contents mesh with statements Fujita made during a June interview with the Associated Press.
In his affidavit, submitted on Friday to Judge Berrigan, Fujita said that he had a telephone conversation with Commissioner Roger Goodell on roughly March 20, 2012. Fujita testified that Goodell “told me he would be coming down hard with punishments on the Saints coaches, but that with respect to Saints players, he was not quite sure what he had on them, and that player punishments therefore would take some time.”
If accurate, Fujita’s testimony would refute the claim that Goodell was prepared to discipline the players along with the non-players on March 21, and that Goodell delayed disciplining the players only because the NFLPA had requested the delay.
In June, Fujita mentioned the March phone conversation to the AP, explaining that Goodell said “he would have no problem coming down hard on Saints coaches, but that when it comes to players, he’s not quite sure what he’s got.”
The only difference comes from the timing. The AP characterizes, but doesn’t quote, Fujita as claiming the call occurred in “early March.” The NFL first disclosed the bounty program publicly on Friday, March 2.
The fact that Fujita gave the same version on two different occasions is hardly dispositive. But consistency is potentially relevant when trying to sift through differing versions of reality.
Again, we’re not saying anyone has intentionally failed to tell the truth. Perceptions can be skewed and memories can be faulty. Here, the point is that the version Fujita gave before the question was raised by the judge meshes with the version he gave after. Given the importance of the issues and the inevitability of an appeal, it makes sense for Judge Berrigan to conduct an evidentiary hearing, at which time all of the key witnesses would show up and testify regarding their perceptions and memories as to the question of whether Goodell did or didn’t make a decision about player discipline as of March 21.
It’s still not completely clear why that’s even an issue in the litigation. But the judge made it an issue by asking the parties last week to identify the date on which the NFLPA supposedly asked the NFL to delay reaching a decision as to player discipline.
Hopefully, the delay for getting an answer on whether the bounty suspensions will be upheld won’t last much longer.