NEW YORK — The NFL went public Monday with some of its evidence against the four players suspended for their roles in the New Orleans Saints bounty program. Among the things the league revealed: a prize of $35,000 for knocking Brett Favre out of the NFC championship game in January 2010.
The league also displayed a computer slide it obtained from the Saints, dating from before a playoff game against Seattle the next season, showing photos of three Seahawks with “Now it’s time to do our job. Collect bounty $$$!. No apologies. Let’s go hunting” printed on it.
The evidence included hand-written notes, documents from the Saints’ computer system and witness testimony.
The initial complaint that sparked the investigation back in 2010 came from then-Minnesota coach Brad Childress, who heard of a bounty on Favre in the championship game from a player.
NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash showed reporters the material at the end of a day when the suspended players – Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma – each attended appeals hearings with Commissioner Roger Goodell at NFL headquarters in Manhattan. The players and their union objected to the process, saying it was unfair.
The league then showed reporters copies of documents and a video from its investigation – the same presentation the NFL earlier made to the players.
One document showed linebacker Vilma offering “two five-stacks,” or $10,000, to knock out Favre in the title game, which the Saints won, leading to their Super Bowl victory over Indianapolis in February 2010. The NFL said several people, including Saints coaches, confirmed Vilma’s offer.
Vilma left his session after about an hour Monday morning.
When that hearing was adjourned until early afternoon, both Vilma and attorney Peter Ginsberg vowed he would not return. He didn’t.
Ginsberg called the hearing “a sham” and said Goodell had not presented the evidence on which he based his decision to suspend Vilma.
“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,” said Vilma, who also is suing the commissioner for defamation. “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.”
Fujita said nothing was accomplished Monday.
“The NFL’s investigation has been highlighted by sensationalized headlines and unsubstantiated leaks to the media. I have yet to see anything that implicates me … not in the last three months and not today,” Fujita said. “The NFL has been careless and irresponsible, and at some time will have to provide answers.”
Pash believes plenty of answers were provided to the players before Monday’s hearing and during it. He said Goodell will “hold the record open” until at least the end of Friday for the players to respond to the evidence.
“We offered the attorneys and players opportunities to comment and they declined to do so,” Pash said.
Pash added that Ginsberg referred to an independent investigation conducted by the NFL Players Association “and we invited them to share it, but they did not.”
What the NFL shared Monday also included former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who ran the bounty program, admitting to investigators he “rolled the dice with player safety and someone could have been maimed.”
Williams has been suspended indefinitely by Goodell, while Saints head coach Sean Payton is gone until after the Super Bowl. Assistant coach Joe Vitt, the interim replacement for Payton, begins a six-game suspension when the regular season starts. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for eight games once the season begins.
The $35,000 offered to sideline Favre included $10,000 pledges from Vilma, former Saints defensive lineman Charles Grant, and Mike Ornstein, an outsider and convicted felon the NFL says was involved in the bounty program. Vitt pledged the other $5,000.
A video from that game shows Vitt telling defensive players on the sideline that Favre was out with a broken leg following a vicious hit. Hargrove is shown turning to teammate Bobby McCray and saying, “Hey, Bobby, give me the money.”
Hargrove was flagged and subsequently fined $5,000 for a flagrant hit on Favre, who returned to the game.
Several other players’ names appear in the evidence, including safety Roman Harper and linebacker Scott Shanle. Neither was punished by Goodell because those players were not linked with any intent-to-injure hits.
Pash explained why the majority of the evidence from the NFL’s investigation has not been revealed.
“It takes a lot of courage for people to speak up,” he said. “If people want to disclose something ... whoever it is – player, coach, former employee, staff member – asks for protection, some sort of confidentiality, we ought to give it to them.
“Otherwise, people will not be willing to come forward.”