In a recent radio interview on AM 790, Mike Florio criticized Roger Goodell’s handling of the punishments handed down to the players allegedly involved in the Bountygate scandal. He began by pointing out that when the Saints’ coaches didn’t vigorously challenge their suspensions (or in Gregg Williams case, not at all), he assumed that everything the NFL and Roger Goodell was saying about the Saints bounty program was factually correct. But when the players defended themselves so aggressively against the allegations the league made against them, it caused Florio to have some doubts.
“…but then when the players started to say… that there’s no specific evidence of a bounty… once the players were punished and once the NFL launched kind of a clumsy effort to vouch for the evidence without giving the evidence and I started to do some research on what the NFL did tell the players before the players were suspended… what the Anthony Hargrove declaration says and more importantly what it doesn’t say or how the NFL has represented it, you just get to a point where you want evidence… don’t just tell me what the evidence is. Show me the evidence. The NFL has refused to do that,” Florio stated.
Florio seemed to think that Goodell’s withholding of the evidence in the Bountygate matter undermines his credibility in the handling of the player suspensions. He implied that public opinion could turn against Goodell if he doesn’t release the evidence and even goes so far as to say the NFL could be embellishing the evidence against the players in this case and even using the New Orleans Saints to send a message to the rest of the league. This seems harsh, but Florio, having been a lawyer himself, is ready to defend it.
“At some point the NFL needs to put cards on the table or people are going to assume that the NFL is embellishing, mischaracterizing, and taking advantage of catching the Saints… Cuz people say, ‘Well what would be the motivation to lie?’ The motivation is to justify hammering the Saints to send a message to every other team that we can’t have bounties anymore.”
This radio broadcast was actually aired a few days before the revelation made Thursday that Saints linebacker, Jonathan Vilma – who faces a yearlong suspension for his alleged role in the Bountygate scandal – filed a defamation lawsuit against Roger Goodell for saying that Vilma offered a monetary reward for anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game.
As to the idea that whistleblowers should be shielded from view in the Bountygate scandal, Florio strenuously disagreed.
“This isn’t some third world country where people testify behind a curtain. At some point, you have to put your name or your face to what you say…. otherwise anyone can make accusations about anyone else on anything under the sun… protecting the whistleblower doesn’t mean protecting his identity indefinitely”
Florio also blasted Goodell, incidentally, for his handling of the Redskins/Cowboys salary cap violations. He says Goodell’s decision to take away significant salary cap space from those two teams because of fairly insignificant violations is “inherently wrong.” He no longer takes what the league says at face value.
Florio did raise some good points here. If someone is having his livelihood taken away from him for a whole year, it would seem rather unfair to not be able to ascertain the exact evidence that caused him to be axed in the first place.
Florio also stressed the importance of what Gregg Williams may have said to Goodell earlier this year when they met. If Williams told Goodell that Vilma put up money for bounties on players, then of course, the upholding of Vilma’s suspension is a slam dunk. But, as Florio indicates, Willams never admitted to the league that the Saints had a pay-to-injure scheme. He did admit to a pay-for-performance system – such as extra money for interceptions and the like – which is expressly forbidden by the NFL.
Williams even apologized to the Saints organization and the NFL, saying, ”I want to express my sincere regret and apology to the NFL, Mr. Benson, and the New Orleans Saints fans for my participation in the ‘pay for performance’ program while I was with the Saints. It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it.” But he never admitted to the pay-to-injure notion.
The Saints interim head coach, Joe Vitt, has vehemently denied that there was a pay-to-injure scheme and has indicated that every team in the NFL has pay-for-performance. ”We had a pot for big plays, the same thing everyone else in the league has, now they call them pay-for-performance. But we never paid for dirty hits,” said Vitt on May 7th.
Mike Florio ended his radio interview by echoing Vitt’s thoughts about just how widespread pay-for-performance schemes might be in the league. ”I think what the NFL is trying to do, really, more than anything else instead of seeing how deep that rabbit hole goes, plug it up put cement in it and scare everyone else into not having bounty systems,” he said. Florio also pointed to Cris Carter’s recent revelation about bounties during his era as evidence of how prevalent bounties may have been in the NFL’s history.
So who is to believe in all of this? Will the evidence against specific players ever come out? Was it just one guy, for instance, who was angry at the Saints for being let go who was making these accusations? Or was it three or four Saints players testifying to Goodell in private?
One thing is for sure: if Jonathan Vilma’s defamation suit forces Goodell’s hand and there is, in fact, credible evidence that Vilma offered monetary compensation for anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of that NFC Championship game from the 2009 season, Vilma will not only become a laughingstock of the sports world, his career will likely come to a thudding halt. But if the evidence that comes out is only spurious at best, it’s Goodell who could suffer the scorn of the general public.