Roger Goodell is standing by the NFL's investigation into the Saints' bounty system, informing the four players who received suspensions as a result of the alleged pay-for-play setup that their discipline has been upheld.
That means a season-long suspension without pay for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. Also suspended without pay are current Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (first eight games of 2012), Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games) and current Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three games).
An appeal took place June 18, but Vilma all but voided his appeal by walking out of the hearing.
In a letter to the four players Tuesday, Goodell cited "conduct detrimental to the NFL," writing:
"Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions. Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process..."
The NFLPA took little time in issuing its own statement criticizing Goodell's stance.
"The players are disappointed with the League's conduct during this process," the statement said. "We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement. Moreover, the Commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator.
"The NFLPA has never and will never condone dangerous or reckless conduct in football and to date, nothing the League has provided proves these players were participants in a pay-to-injure program. We will continue to pursue all options."
Vilma informed federal judge Helen G. Berrigan by letter last week that he planned to file an injunction if Goodell didn't overturn his suspension. Vilma has filed a separate defamation suit against Goodell.
Vilma and his attorney, Peter Ginsberg, left the June 18 appeal hearing with Goodell and the other suspended players, calling the session a "sham." The other three players returned to a meeting with Goodell after a delay of more than three hours.
"Roger Goodell has taken three months to tear down what I built over eight years," Vilma said on June 18. "It's tough to swallow. I have been linked to a bounty, and it simply is not true. I don't know how I can get a fair process when his the judge, jury and executioner. You're assuming it will be fair -- but it's not."
Goodell was granted an extension to respond to Vilma to July 5. In his letter to the player Tuesday, Goodell addressed the players' claims, saying:
"Although you claimed to have been 'wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,' your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested); you elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore the CBA, in particular its provisions governing 'conduct detrimental' determinations..."
Goodell did reserve the right to reduce the suspensions should new information come to light.
"While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA, I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion," Goodell wrote to the players. "The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each still welcome to do so.”
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