The refrain in the NFL v. every player who’s allegedly involved in the bounty mess has become quite familiar. The players ask for evidence–cold, hard evidence which proves that money went from the hand of a player to another player, or from a player to a coach and then to a player, or something (anything)–and the league then does either nothing, or very little.
That’s why it’s increasingly looking like the appeal hearings for Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith, and Anthony Hargrove will be hearings in name only, and will have little substance. Vilma’s day is already done partly due to his disgust over the lack of evidence disclosed by the league and Roger Goodell’s continued stubborn secrecy. And after reading the invisible words between the lines of a statement released by the other three players, they may not be too far behind. They have their hearings later this afternoon.
Vilma’s day ended early when he left his meeting with Goodell, concluding his appeal. His lawyer Peter Ginsberg complained that they weren’t given sufficient time to review what little evidence exists, calling the process a “sham.” Although the league released over 200 pages of evidence, none of the words and supposed hard evidence in those pages directly linked a player with a bounty payment.
That’s a pretty essential item for Goodell, but at this point, why should he care? When appeals are heard, he transforms into being more than a mere commissioner. He’s a dictator, because a fair and unbiased process for an appeal of this nature doesn’t exist in the NFL. The man who made the ruling also hears the appeal, which has never made sense, and it’s why Goodell now feels little obligation to share the complete evidence with those whose reputations he’s shattering.
We’re still quite confident that evidence exists, because it’s difficult to fathom a commissioner of a major sports league going on a vindictive quest against a handful of players that’s totally fabricated.
The players just want the opportunity to properly defend themselves against evidence. So brace for the sloppy mud throws. Here’s the statement released by Hargrove, Smith, and Fujita:
We have purportedly been disciplined by the Commissioner for alleged activities that the National Football League has grossly misrepresented to the public. We are in attendance today not because we recognize the Commissioner’s jurisdiction to adjudicate regarding these specious allegations, but because we believe the League would attempt to publicly mischaracterize our refusal to attend. We will not address the substance of the NFL’s case because this is not the proper venue for adjudication, and there has been no semblance of due process afforded to us.
As veteran players of 11, 9 and 9 years in this League, we are profoundly disappointed with the NFL’s conduct in this matter. We know what the NFL has publicly said we did, and the Commissioner has chosen to try to punish us and disparage our characters based on semantics, not facts. Words are cheap and power is fleeting.
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.
Vilma left, knowing a fair hearing was impossible without the proper facts and evidence presented clearly. The same routine will likely take place later with Smith, Hargrove, and Fujita, meaning that although few expected any change to Goodell’s rulings, all four players could be denied what should be a simple, basic right. Vilma said the current system makes a fair hearing impossible:
“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 told the Associated Press. “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.”
It’s time to share the evidence, Roger, even if it’s just to save your public reputation that will soon crumble if this stubborn stance persists. Without evidence, these appeals are a farce, and most importantly, an embarrassment.