NFL denies witness retractions in bounty probe
The NFL denies accusations it covered up retractions made by key
witnesses in its bounty investigation, or that Commissioner Roger
Goodell has placed gag orders on Saints employees and others who
could help punished players clear their names.
Lawyer Peter Ginsberg, who represents suspended Saints player
Jonathan Vilma, made the accusations when punished players appeared
earlier this week for an appeal hearing, a full transcript of which
has been obtained by The Associated Press.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello says claims of a gag order are
”completely untrue,” and that no potential witnesses were
instructed by the league to stay away from Monday’s hearing.
The transcript also shows that the NFL Players Association
formally asked Goodell to recuse himself from ongoing appeal
proceedings, contending that he is incapable of ruling ”without
the appearance of bias.”
”The commissioner has publicly appeared on television and in
other (forums) defending the discipline,” NFLPA attorney Jeffrey
Kessler said. ”We would ask that the commissioner step down, to
the extent that these proceedings continue, as the decision maker
and that a neutral decision maker be appointed in his place.”
The early portions of the transcript detail a series of verbal
jousts that Ginsberg sought to deliver to the commissioner before
leaving the appeal hearing early in protest.
In discussing witnesses he has been unable to speak with,
Ginsberg told Goodell, ”You have made threats to keep them from
talking to us. You have refused to have them even participate in
Ginsberg and the NFLPA had asked the NFL to compel several
witnesses to appear at the appeal hearing, including Saints head
coach Sean Payton, assistant head coach Joe Vitt, general manager
Mickey Loomis, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and
former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo.
While the NFL declined to require anyone to attend the hearing,
Aiello said the players and their representatives ”were free to
bring any witnesses of their choosing, including any coaches if
they agreed to appear.”
Ginsberg further asserted that Williams and Cerullo offered
retractions of some of their initial statements to the NFL in the
investigation, and that the league has neglected to share that
information. Aiello denied such retractions were ever made.
Ginsberg also accused the NFL of distorting evidence introduced
at the appeals hearing, including an email from marketing agent
Mike Ornstein to Williams, who the NFL says ran a bounty program
from 2009 to 2011.
In the email, Ornstein tells Williams he gave him ”1,500 last
week, I will give you another 1,500 the next four game (sic) and
the final 2,000 the last 4.” Ginsberg asserts that the NFL
included the email as evidence even after Ornstein told Goodell the
email related to a Gregg Williams charity.
The NFL declined to comment beyond its assertion in Monday’s
hearing that the total amount of money the email discusses – $5,000
– matches the amount listed next to Ornstein’s name on a note
outlining pledges made as ”seed money” to a performance incentive
pool that rewarded big plays as well as injurious hits.
Ginsberg told the commissioner he imposed a ”misplaced
punishment” which ”cast a shadow not only on Mr. Vilma personally
and professionally, but, I dare say, on the NFL and on the office
of the commissioner in engaging in these proceedings.”
He then concluded his statement by urging Goodell to ”rescind
any punishment against Mr. Vilma and to apologize in public for
what you have done.”
Not long after making those statements on the record, Ginsberg,
who is also representing Vilma in a separate defamation lawsuit
against Goodell in federal court in New Orleans, left the hearing
with Vilma in protest, They did not return for an afternoon
Later in the hearing, Kessler said the remaining three punished
players – Saints defensive end Will Smith, Green Bay defensive
lineman Anthony Hargrove, and linebacker Scott Fujita – would
listen to the remainder of the hearing, but would decline to
participate because they believed the proceeding lacked elements
required to meet the standard of a ”fair hearing” under the NFL’s
current labor agreement.
”The essence of that hearing contains certain matters that are
being denied to the players here,” Kessler said. ”In particular,
we’re not being given the opportunity to confront and cross-examine
the actual witnesses who have evidence on this.”
Kessler made an additional point that the NFL has already stated
publicly that Williams, the defensive coordinator, ran the Saints’
incentive pool, and that punishing employees for something their
employers instructed them to do is ”contrary to established legal
The NFL continued its portion of the hearing in which it
reviewed evidence against the players.
Goodell did not recuse himself and it did not appear he would
consider doing so after league attorney Adolpho Birch responded to
Kessler that an arbitrator already ruled Goodell has the authority
to hear the appeal.