SBD/May 3, 2012/Franchises

NFL Investigator Claims Evidence Of Saints Players Participating In Bounties Is Clear

The evidence is clear that the four Saints players suspended as part of the bounty probe actively participated in that program, said former U.S. prosecutor for the southern district of New York Mary Jo White, who was hired by the NFL in December to review the investigation. Speaking to reporters this morning, White all but scoffed at NFLPA contentions that the union had not seen enough evidence. “I have reviewed all of the evidence in this case and the factual basis for the sanctions is quite strong,” she said, adding the NFLPA has met with NFL security and seen the commissioner’s reports. The NFLPA has expressed concern that the unnamed sources who provided the information, whom she described as having first-hand knowledge, were not disclosed to the union, but White said whistleblowers' identities should never be revealed. She called it a “red herring issue." Packers DT Anthony Hargrove, who was suspended for the first eight games of the '12 season, submitted a signed declaration attesting to the existence of the bounty program, she said. Hargrove in '10 lied about the program, though he was instructed to do so, White said. She would not say who told him to lie. The union has objected to the sanctions, and Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for a year, and Saints DE Will Smith have vehemently denied the charges. White said Vilma and the others had a chance to present their defense with counsel, but declined the opportunity.

LEAGUE CLAIMS SUIT WILL BE UNSUCCESSFUL: The NFL does not think the union will be successful if it chooses to sue the league in federal court. NFL Senior VP/Law & Labor Policy Adolpho Birch, who has been involved in the investigation, said the CBA is clear in designating disciplinary powers to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “It is pretty clear that would not be an appropriate action,” he said of a potential lawsuit. The four players are expected to appeal the suspensions shortly, though Goodell, who handed down the suspensions, hears their appeals under terms of the CBA because the conduct is classified as off-field conduct. Had the bounties been classified as on-field conduct, an appeal board would have heard the challenges. White made it clear the players were at fault even if their coaches, three of whom have been suspended, ordered the pay-to-injure bounties. “Each player had the responsibility to say no,” she said. White has advised the league in the past on player disciplinary issue. However, she described her role in this process as independent.
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