Most of former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s 22-page ruling focuses on the question of whether and to what extent players should be subject to suspension for pay-for-performance/bounty programs that are administered by coaches.
But free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove’s seven-game suspension ultimately was fueled by allegations that Hargrove lied to investigators in March 2010, when the NFL first started to sniff around the Saints regarding the possibility that a bounty existed on former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre during the 2010 NFC title game.
So how did Hargrove beat the rap?
For starters, Tagliabue compared the suspension of Hargrove for obstruction of justice, to the $50,000 fine imposed two years ago on Favre himself for lying to the league in connection with the investigation regarding whether he sent inappropriate cell-phone photos to a former Jets employee.
“Although not entirely comparable to the present matter, this illustrates the NFL’s practice of fining, not suspending players, for serious violations of this type,” Tagliabue explains in his official ruling. “There is no evidence of a record of past suspensions based purely on obstructing a League investigation. In my forty years of association with the NFL, I am aware of many instances of denials in disciplinary proceedings that proved to be false, but I cannot recall any suspension for such fabrication.”
That’s a very polite way of saying that, in Tagliabue’s opinion, Commissioner Roger Goodell went way too far in suspending Hargrove.
Tagliabue also points to the fact that coaches told Hargrove to lie, and that “it is clear that Hargrove was under tremendous pressure to follow the chain of command in order to keep his job.” It makes sense, even though Goodell had disregarded the reality that Hargrove was simply saying what he had to say in order to remain employed by the Saints.
Finally, Tagliabue relied on the ambiguity regarding the specific questions Hargrove was asked by invesitgators. Denying the existence of a pay-for-performance program is different from denying the existence of a bounty on Brett Favre. “If Hargrove denied only the existence of the alleged bounty on Favre,” Tagliabue writes, “[Hargrove] is no more guilty of conduct detrimental than the numerous Saints’ defensive team members from the 2009-2010 season who have provided sworn statements or testimony to the same effect and who have not been suspended or otherwise disciplined.”
All things considered, it was the right decision. And it makes the league office look wrong for so zealously pursuing a guy who was doing what he need to do and who may not have even been lying at all — especially since, as Tagliabue noted, no action like this had ever been taken in 40 years of NFL history.