Remember Monday, when we told you that the NFL took 12 reporters inside the ice cream factory and showed them a bunch of "explosive" evidence against the New Orleans Saints? Well, Saints quarterback Drew Brees evidently took that description to heart.
Um ... yeah. Probably not a good idea to compare a process that got a few people suspended from professional football to a process (however flawed it may have been) that started a war which goes on in some iterations a decade later. That said, the point Brees is trying to make is that, just as with the WMD story, a governing body is dropping the hammer with what some would consider to be less than compelling evidence. In retrospect, former President George W. Bush called the "intelligence failure" his biggest regret during his eight years in office.
When the NFL gave 12 reporters access to the evidence used to discipline the Saints players during a meeting after Monday morning's appeal hearings, it became very clear that there was something very fishy going on in New Orleans. But to a man, those who saw the evidence were far more certain that the Saints should be sanctioned for their "pay-for-performance" system ... and far less certain that four players -- Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith -- should be suspended for certain amounts of time.
"To be fair to the players, there was far, far more evidence of the pay-for-performance claims than the bounty claims," SI.com's Peter King wrote. "In fact, the [Saints safety Roman] Harper claim was the only one the league showed that resulted in a payout to a player for knocking a player out of a game. However, the NFL has maintained all along that all it needs is evidence that a bounty program was in place and that money was offered to try to take opponents out of the game -- not that players were actually taken out of the game."
And that's where Fujita had a real leg to stand on when he responded to the process once Monday's hearings were over.
"I have yet to see anything that implicates me in some pay-to-injure scheme, not in the last three months, not in the last three days, not today,'' Fujita said. "And perhaps that's because there is nothing that can implicate me in some pay-to-injure scheme.
"Throughout this process," he continued, "it has become increasingly clear to me that just because someone disagrees with the NFL's interpretation of an incredibly flawed investigation it's assumed that he's lying, and to me that's a shame. I've played 10 years in this league and throughout my career I've done nothing but conduct myself in a positive manner. This has impacted my reputation, this has impacted my ability to provide for my family now and in the future and I have a hard time with that. The NFL has been careless and irresponsible and they have made mistakes. At some point they have to answer questions about that."
NFLPA Lead Outside Counsel Richard Smith, who spoke to Shutdown Corner in early May, continues to insist that the NFL is running a "sloppy investigation." And while the NFL maintains that there is no agenda here, that's not really the point. It's clear, based on the evidence seen, that there's enough to hammer the Saints very hard, and deservedly so. And it's wrong of any Saints player who was involved to insist that there was nothing going on. But there is still no smoking gun, at least not one that has been made public -- nothing seen or heard that would drive any reasonable person to say, "Yeah, Jonathan Vilma needs to be out of the league for a full season."
And that's the problem to date. The NFL's case, as regards the specificity of the players' involvement, is still far spottier than anyone would like.
George W. Bush called the WMD fiasco "a do-over I can't do." The stakes are far smaller in this case (and Brees should know better than to compare the two), but there are still enough questions about how the NFL has handled this case to make a lot of people wonder if a do-over won't be required.
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