Earlier today we joined the growing and loud pitchfork-wielding vigilantes waiting for Roger Goodell to produce evidence–any evidence at all–of money changing hands during the Saints’ bounty operation, and either landing in a players’ hand, or going in the other direction with the players agreeing to fund the operation. Gregg Williams may have been the maniacal fool and the mastermind, but the Saints players weren’t mindless drones.
Even though we were growing increasingly restless with the stubbornness from camp Goodell (the worst summer camp imaginable for your children, but they’ll definitely learn how to fleece rival child unions), we assumed that evidence would eventually trickle out. It had to, because a rich man who runs the richest sports league in North America wouldn’t risk both his reputation and the public opinion of his players based on little more than a hunch and a prayer.
Now buried somewhere in the 200 pages of documents given to the Saints players and their lawyers last Friday we finally have something. The evidence before you, kind public that reigns over the court of public opinion, features both potentially damning articles and Dog the Bounty Hunter.
That’s right, a long-haired macho hippy who showers bi-monthly has now wiggled his way into this mess. Bountygate, meet shark.
The documents are predictably written in the kind of legal language which can be deciphered only through the use of a Ouija board. But here’s the gist in neat, tidy numerical list form, with most of the details courtesy of Jeff Duncan from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, who notes that the evidence emerging from today’s appeal hearings points to clear proof a bounty program:
1. The information presented by the league to the three Saints players during today’s appeals after Jonathan Vilma dropped his case (Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita remained) was primarily done through a PowerPoint presentation. One slide shows a photo of Dog the Bounty Hunter used by the Saints and presumably Williams, and the words “Now it’s time to do our jobs… collect bounty$$$!”
2. There is a transcription of notes from the NFC Championship game between the Saints and Vikings in 2009 in which Vilma is accused of putting $10,000 on Brett Favre’s head. The notes outline a list of payments, specifically money put into a “QB out pool.” The list shows that Vilma did indeed put in his $10,000, while Mike Orstein–Sean Payton’s former (?) friend–also paid $10,000. Defensive end Charles Grant added $10,000, with assistant coach Joe Vitt contributing $5,000, making the final tally $35,000, which is far more than just the original $10,000 rumored from Vilma.
3. There’s also a slide showing payments for cart-offs and “whacks” during a 2009 regular-season game against the Giants. One name that surfaced was former cornerback Roman Harper, who allegedly contributed $1,000 to a bounty on Brandon Jacobs.
It gets worse. Facing increasing public pressure to release their information, the league invited a dozen reporters into its head offices in New York, and gave them the same presentation that the Saints players saw earlier today. Mike Freeman from CBS Sports was among them, and he reports that the Saints kept all of their bounty information on their house computer system, further showing their blatant disregard of the rules by making little attempt to conceal their actions.
In a series of tweets Freeman also noted that Matt Hasselbeck and Marshawn Lynch were targets too, and that much of the league’s information was gathered through the cooperation of Williams. The worst quote comes from Williams himself, who admitted guilt by saying that he was “rolling the dice with player safety.”
Despite this growing mountain of incriminating evidence, Fujita firmly declared his innocence as he left his appeal hearing this afternoon, telling NFL.com’s Steve Wyche that he still hasn’t seen anything directly connecting him to a bounty payment. Most of all, the process has made Fujita aware of the deep flaws in the league’s disciplinary process.
“You know, throughout this process, it’s become increasingly clear to me that just because someone disagrees with the NFL’s interpretation of an incredibly flawed investigation, it’s assumed that he’s lying, and to me, that’s a shame. That’s a shame.”
No one’s arguing with you about the league’s broken disciplinary process, Scott. But suddenly there’s evidence, lots of it, and a several guns surrounded by a cloud of smoke.
UPDATE: From Will Brinson, here’s the slide with Dog the Bounty Hunter. Umm yeah, this isn’t a good look…