[Editor’s note: NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith has sent a letter to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell asking that the bounty investigation be conducted again, from scratch. The full text of the June 22, 2012 letter appears below.]
I write regarding the information that has recently emerged about the NFL’s investigation of the New Orleans Saints’ alleged “bounty” program and your purported discipline of certain players based on that investigation. The NFLPA has made a number of jurisdictional, bias and other legal objections to the proceedings, but this letter is not intended to further discuss those objections, which the NFLPA maintains.
As you know, prior to the hearing on June 18, 2012, on behalf of Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith, we wrote to you on several occasions requesting disclosure of all evidence, including all potentially exculpatory information regarding the players’ alleged involvement in the behavior for which they were purportedly disciplined. Additionally, we asked that the NFL compel the appearance of witnesses, several of whom supposedly possess first-hand knowledge of the alleged events and over whom the NFL has control, including Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt. The League refused to do so.
We made those requests to avoid the exact circumstance that the NFL has now created, namely, an “investigation” that has come under question for being unprofessional, unsubstantiated and incomplete. In the days since the June 18 hearing, first-hand witnesses to the Saints defensive team meetings who the League actually interviewed, have clearly and publicly stated that the NFL grossly mischaracterized the information they provided to NFL investigators and knowingly misrepresented the facts surrounding this investigation. For example:
- On Wednesday, June 20, Saints coach Joe Vitt said he had repeatedly insisted to NFL investigators that the Saints’ defenders never targeted opponents with a specific intent to injure, never attempted to injure opponents with illegal hits and never singled out opponents with bounties on them, specifically: “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.” Mike Triplett, New Orleans Saints coach Joe Vitt expands on denials of NFL claims in interview with Times-Picayune, The Times Picayune (June 20, 2012)
- Mike Ornstein also directly refuted the NFL’s account of his testimony to NFL investigators saying “I never corroborated $10,000,” Ornstein said. “The only thing that I told them was that we had the [pregame] meeting, we jumped around, we screamed around, and I never saw [Vilma] offer one dime. And I never heard him say it.” (Pro Football Talk, June 20, 2012)
- It is also clear that the email that the NFL reported was sent to Coach Greg Williams and Coach Sean Peyton from Mr. Ornstein was not sent directly to them at all, and we were told that Mr. Ornstein told you personally that he did not place a bounty on any player.
Additionally, the NFL chose to rely on other extremely specious “evidence.” For example, one of the documents that the NFL asserted as proof was a transcription of an unidentified person’s hand-notes. The top of the page says “Minny Game,” and the writing supposedly shows that Coach Vitt contributed $5000 to the “QB Out pool,” and Will Smith and Scott Fujita contributed $5000 and $2000, respectively, to the “General Pool.” The NFL failed to compel the testimony or even identify the author of those hand notes, and Coach Vitt has now made clear that those notes do not reflect the truth. Mr. Fujita and Mr. Smith also know that to be the case. Mary Jo White casually mentioned that a witness supported the inference that the notes were “accurate” regarding Mr. Smith and Mr. Fujita, but the NFL failed produce, or even identify, a witness to offer any first-hand testimony supporting that assertion. Finally, the use of subtitled game clips to supposedly reflect Mr. Hargrove’s participation in the alleged bounty program is particularly disturbing. The NFL’s annotation of a clip where the text says that Mr. Hargrove said “Bobby, give me my money,” is not accurate; the clip does not offer any visual evidence that Mr. Hargrove spoke those words.
All of this information makes it clear that the people who presented the information from the NFL’s investigation to you egregiously failed you because they did not present a full and complete account of the entirety of the testimony and information they received. It is my understanding that the NFL’s lead investigator in this matter has also submitted his resignation.
When journalists and fans publicly question the process it reflects poorly upon the stewards of the game. Our players, management and fans are entitled to a process that adheres to a standard beyond your interpretations of the bare minimum requirements of the CBA; they are entitled to believe in the fairness of both the process and the people entrusted to uphold it.
The NFL launched a vigorous public relations campaign that this was a “bounty program” involving dozens of players and coaches who, like a gang, targeted specific players for injury in return for cash payments. However, you now know from a first-hand witness account from a coach who was in the room for every single meeting that this did not happen. Moreover, the carefully worded discipline letters to the players do not mention “bounty” or “pay to injure,” but purport to authorize you to punish them for alleged participation in a “pay for performance” program for “good” plays such as forced fumbles and sacks. While it is disingenuous and unfair to publicly disparage these men’s characters by alleging that they participated in a “pay to injure” scheme, I am at a loss as to why the NFL deliberately withheld direct evidence that they clearly did not.
This investigation unfairly painted players with a very broad, disparaging brush and has thrown the integrity of the process under the CBA into question. As a fellow steward of this game, and wholly apart from the union’s and the players’ legal objections, in light of these retractions and contradictions that have come to your recent attention, I ask that you order that the investigation of this matter be redone thoroughly and transparently, and if the full and complete information shows that none of the accused players participated in a “pay to injure” scheme, the NFL publicly issue such written findings.