The floodgates officially are open.
After weeks of silence, which many believed was motivated by fear of additional sanctions from the league office, the coaches who have been suspended as part of the bounty/pay-for-performance program are beginning to speak out aggressively regarding the league’s case against players accused of offering, paying, or receiving money for inflicting injury.
It has begun with Saints interim head coach/assistant head coach/linebackers coach Joe Vitt. In the wake of Wednesday’s statement in which he expressed dismay over the sheet of paper that accuses him of putting up $5,000 for the alleged bounty on Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC title game, Vitt elaborated in remarks to Mike Triplett of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.
“There’s gotta be some concerns from the league’s standpoint and anybody’s standpoint about the authenticity of any of these documents,” Vitt said regarding the key piece of paper that apparently lists the money pledged for the 2009 NFC title game. “I think that’s a huge concern. It looks like that document has been falsified or tampered with. What kind of credibility do they have if they take documents like that and show it to players?”
He’s right. The one useful needle in the 50,000-page haystack contains a major flaw. The notes prepared by a still-unknown person suggest that Vitt ponied up $5,000 to whoever knocked Favre out of the game. So if as to Vitt the notes aren’t reliable, how are they reliable as to Jonathan Vilma (who is shown as kicking in $10,000) or anyone else?
The league has said that the offer appearing on the notes was corroborated by three people: Gregg Williams, Mike Ornstein, and someone whom the league won’t name. But Ornstein has said he didn’t tell the league Vilma had offered $10,000.
Williams hasn’t said anything, but there’s a chance Williams will be emboldened by Vitt’s decision to talk tough.
“I stated from Day 1 to investigators — and I hope they took good notes — our players have done nothing wrong. Nothing wrong,” Vitt said. “Our players never crossed the white lines with an intent to injure anybody.”
Apart from the issue of innocence or guilt (and as I’ll explain during and after today’s PFT Live the issue of guilt or innocence really is a question of semantics), Vitt has a problem with the league’s procedure for passing judgment on the players.
“The bylaws of the National Football League supersede the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights,” Vitt said. While the players aren’t “on trial” in the criminal sense of the word (and thus not entitled to the protections of the Constitution), the fact remains that the NFL and the NFLPA have crafted a quasi-judicial procedure for handling matters of discipline without an outside person deciding whether the player did what he’s accused of doing. And the procedure that the NFL administers must be fair and impartial, especially where the player loudly disputes the allegations against him.
Without a fair process, it’s impossible to get to the truth. And so people like Vitt have taken matters into their own hands.
“The truth is starting to come out,” Vitt said. “[W]e’re gonna keep fighting the fight. We’re not gonna back down.”
Moving forward, it’ll be interesting to see whether Williams or anyone else follows Vitt’s lead in trying to get the truth out, whatever the truth may be.