Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita made a visit to the NFL league office on Monday morning to appeal their involvement in the New Orleans Saints bounty program. The meeting the players and their attorneys had with Roger Goodell and the cadre of NFL attorneys lasted less than an hour before Vilma and his attorney Peter Ginsberg left in a state of disgust.
"We got upstairs and the Commissioner has tried to regroup by adjourning today's hearing after we presented our position with regard to the process and with regard to the merits," Ginsberg said upon leaving early. "We're not willing to participate in that kind of sham.
"The Commissioner had legal obligations and procedural obligations. He failed in those obligations and as far as we're concerned these proceedings are over."
Vilma also echoed his displeasure on a much more personal level.
"Roger Goodell has taken three months to tarnish what I built over eight years in my career and it's tough to swallow that from here on out no matter where I go, I'll be linked to a BountyGate that's simply not true," Vilma said.
"Everyone has their opinions on it and everyone will either believe me or not believe me. There's no in between. It's unfortunate that this process has been the way it is, and the situation has been the way it is because at the end, it's just not true."
"I don't know how you get a fair process when you get [Roger Goodell as] judge, jury and executioner."
It is unsure whether Smith, Hargrove or Fujita will return Monday afternoon when Goodell reconvenes the appeals hearing, but Vilma will not participate.
Ginsberg said that “enough is enough” and has decided not to let Goodell continue the “abuse of the process and of Jonathan’s rights.”
Ginsberg and Vilma are, in effect, taking their ball and going home. Except home isn’t exactly where they would like to take this matter.
A Times-Picayune story speculated that Ginsberg would like to see this matter turned over to the courts.
Ginsberg thus left open the possibility, which he declined to address, that Vilma may seek additional recourse through the courts. Vilma has already filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell personally in federal court in New Orleans.
For Vilma to have a chance at getting on the football field in 2012, that's exactly what has to happen.
The other three players—through their attorneys—released a statement of disappointment in the NFL Sunday before the Monday meeting.
"We have purportedly been disciplined by the Commissioner for alleged activities that the National Football League has grossly misrepresented to the public," the three players said in a statement.
"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."
The problem is that these players and their attorneys are fighting the matter as if it were a court case, and it's not.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement that was signed by the players less than a year ago stipulates when and where proceedings like this take place. The CBA also spells out who will stand over any hearings and who will make the decisions.
If the CBA isn’t enough—and legally, it very much is—arbitrators have decided in favor of the NFL and the CBA as recently as June 8th in these matters.
The Saints players are not going to get the “innocent until proven guilty” treatment that’s warranted to every American. They aren’t going to get to play by the rules of evidence or discovery or even get to have their stand in front of a jury of their peers.
Because the players signed away those rights when they took a hard stance last year during the NFL lockout.
The NFL Players Association fought for better working conditions, better hours, fewer padded practices, a better revenue system for player compensation, a Legacy Fund for retired players and new contract rules.
The NFLPA settled on the terms of the new CBA and the NFL players ratified it. That’s when everyone in the NFL went back to work, and that’s when the rules that Goodell has been following thus far in the bounty hearings were set in stone.
Instead of calling the appeals process "a sham," instead of Vilma and his entourage walking out angry or Fujita, Smith and Hargrove sending out statements accusing the NFL of being dishonorable and not playing by the rules, maybe the four players and their attorneys need to re-focus their anger elsewhere.
Like on themselves.
Had the players not agreed to the CBA, or if they had better evaluated the power of the commissioner in situations like this, maybe they would have come up with a better option.
But until they are able to fight for that right again, Goodell and the NFL are holding all the cards in this situation.
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