Four players – Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma – were notified today that Commissioner Roger Goodell has upheld the discipline that was imposed for conduct detrimental to the NFL as a result of their roles in the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-performance/bounty program. Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, is suspended without pay for the first three games of the 2012 regular season. Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, is suspended without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 regular season. Smith is suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2012 regular season. Vilma is suspended without pay for the 2012 season.
In his letter to the players, Commissioner Goodell noted that:
“Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions. Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process…”
“Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,’ your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested); you elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore the CBA, in particular its provisions governing ‘conduct detrimental’ determinations…”
Representatives for the players raised a series of jurisdictional challenges to the authority of the commissioner to hear appeals in this matter, arguments inconsistent with the Collective Bargaining Agreement and arguments rejected by two independent arbitrators jointly appointed by the NFL and NFL Players Association.
Commissioner Goodell reiterated the process followed prior to determining discipline:
“In sum, I did not make my determinations here lightly. At every stage, I took seriously my responsibilities under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I determined the discipline for each of you
(1) only after a long, detailed and professional investigation by NFL Security’s experienced investigators;
(2) only after the results of that investigation were carefully reviewed by an independent expert, former United States Attorney Mary Jo White;
(3) only after I heard the appeals of the Saints’ coaches and staff regarding discipline for their roles in the program;
(4) only after representatives of NFL Security, along with Mr. Pash and Mr. Birch, spoke with Players Association attorneys at length regarding the investigation; and
(5) only after giving each of you multiple opportunities to meet with the NFL investigators and to share with them your version of the events surrounding the program. The suspensions imposed were reasonable action taken to preserve public confidence in, and the integrity of, the game of professional football.”
The commissioner further stated:
“While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA, I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion. The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each still welcome to do so.”