NEW ORLEANS (AP) – Suspended Saints player Jonathan Vilma left an appeals hearing with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after about an hour Monday, denying he had a role in New Orleans’ bounty program and saying the process is unfair.
The linebacker’s attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said the NFL requested an adjournment to Monday afternoon, but he and Vilma refused. Ginsberg called the hearing “a sham” and said Goodell failed to present the evidence on which he based his decision to impose Vilma’s season-long suspension.
“Roger Goodell has taken three months to tear down what I built over eight years. It’s tough to swallow. I have been linked to a bounty and it simply is not true,” Vilma said.
“I don’t know how I can get a fair process when he is the judge, jury and executioner. You’re assuming it will be fair, but it’s not.”
Three other players were at NFL headquarters to have their appeals heard Monday afternoon: Saints defensive end Will Smith, docked for four games; Green Bay defensive end Anthony Hargrove, suspended for eight games; and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita, set to miss three games.
Those players and Vilma all were on the Saints roster when then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, by his own admission, ran a pay-for-pain operation that handed out cash bonuses for big hits on targeted opponents.
Lawyers for all the players and the NFL Players Association were on hand for Monday’s hearings. The union recently lost two grievances challenging Goodell’s authority to hand out discipline for the bounty system.
Smith, Hargrove and Fujita issued a joint statement saying they were attending the hearing not because they were admitting to being part of the bounty program – or because they believed Goodell had the right to punish them – but because they felt the league “would attempt to publicly mischaracterize our refusal to attend.”
“Shame on the National Football League and Commissioner Goodell for being more concerned about ‘convicting’ us publicly than being honorable and fair to men who have dedicated their professional lives to playing this game with honor,” the three players said.
The NFL turned over some evidence to the four players and the union on Friday, as required by the collective bargaining agreement. That information included some 200 pages of documents, with emails, power-point presentations, even handwritten notes, plus one video recording. But a ledger that reportedly documents payments of $1,000 for plays called “cart-offs” and $400 for “whacks,” as well as $100 fines for mental errors, was not in the material.
Previously, Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the season and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis got eight games, while Williams – now with the St. Louis Rams – was suspended indefinitely.
The NFL’s investigation of the Saints found Williams ran a system for three years under which payouts were set on specific opponents, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. The program was in effect from 2009, when New Orleans won the Super Bowl, until last season.
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