Hello, and welcome to today’s edition of hole poking, the fun family game we’ve played throughout this week in which massive gaps in logic are found in the league’s evidence against the four Saints players accused of playing significant roles in the team’s bounty scheme.
Up this morning is Anthony Hargrove, the defensive lineman who’s now with the Packers, and has been labeled a bounty collector. He received that dubious label because of his alleged conduct during the Saints’ win over the Vikings in the 2009 NFC championship game, a game that ended with the color of Brett Favre’s body matching his helmet.
Favre was steamrolled repeatedly, which is permitted within the rules of football. Well, it mostly is at least. Hargrove went high–too high–during one of his first half hits, and he was later fined. While that was illegal, it wasn’t out of the ordinary, as fines happen every week.
What led to Hargrove’s eight-game suspension and his lengthy, passionate speech and denial of any wrongdoing in front of the NFL’s head offices in New York this week was his part in a video of the Saints sideline late in that same 2009 championship game after Favre was hit and possibly injured, and assistant coach Joe Vitt was talking to the defense about the opposing quarterback’s leg that was at the time thought to be in two pieces. The video was released to the public Monday when a group of 12 reporters were invited to see the same presentation given to the players during their appeal hearings, and in the rush to relay all the evidence that at the time seemed quite damning, we all–and I include the NFL in this group–overlooked one detail that’s sort of important.
The NFL used the video to claim that while Vitt was talking, Hargrove can be heard saying to teammate Bobby McCray “Bobby, pay me my money!”
Except there’s a flaw in the visual evidence: we can’t see if it’s Hargrove speaking. That seems like a basic requirement for visual evidence.
Go ahead, watch the video. If you watch it 22 times, that will still be at least 10 fewer than my viewings. Those words are definitely said by someone, which is still incriminating on a grander scheme, and it shows that a bounty program existed in some context. But although someone said it, we can’t prove that Hargrove is guilty, because he’s not visible on camera when the words that represent the smoking gun in the case against him are spoken. He’s seen for only a fleeting second, and then he leans back and disappears into the huddle of players around Vitt. The voice is there, and the audio is clear, but it could have come from anyone.
Earl Heyman is a defensive lineman who was on the Saints’ practice squad in 2009, and he was that huddle. He told Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com that he knows who said those words, and it wasn’t Hargrove.
“I was right there, right there in that closeup [of the defensive huddle] they’re talking about. Every time they came off the field I was standing right there talking to them, and I know who said it, and I can say with 100 percent accuracy who said it, and I know 100 percent it wasn’t Anthony.”
I’ll still maintain what’s looking like an increasingly stubborn belief that there must be more evidence still to be revealed, because Roger Goodell can’t possibly be a vindictive monster who’s needlessly crusading against arbitrary players while risking his league’s reputation. From what we’ve seen so far, he’s proceeding with very little definitive proof to punish the players in question.
Slowly, trust in Goodell and the league is eroding.