When details began emerging from the New Orleans Saints "Bounty Gate" situation, I think we all knew that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell would bring the hammer down on everyone involved. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire year, assistant coach Joe Vitt will assume coaching duties after his six-game suspension and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely and it's unclear if he'll ever be able to return to coaching in the NFL.
A handful of notable Saints players were suspended as well. Scott Fujita was suspended three games, while Will Smith was suspended for four because of their participation in the bounty system. However, it was with two other defensive stalwarts on the club that received the heaviest punishment. Anthony Hargrove, who many felt was caught on audio tape incriminating himself in the situation, was suspended for six games and Jonathan Vilma was suspended for the entire season. Each player made passionate pleas to the media and fans speaking of Goodell's unjust punishments and their upcoming appeals. They've made said appeals and Goodell has upheld his punishments to each player.
Of the appeals and his decision to uphold his punishments, Goodell said:
"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.
" ... In sum, I did not make my determinations here lightly. At every stage, I took seriously my responsibilities under the Collective Bargaining Agreement. I determined the discipline for each of you (1) only after a long, detailed and professional investigation by NFL Security's experienced investigators; (2) only after the results of that investigation were carefully reviewed by an independent expert, former United States Attorney Mary Jo White;(3) only after I heard the appeals of the Saints' coaches and staff regarding discipline for their roles in the program;(4) only after representatives of NFL Security, along with Mr. Pash and Mr. Birch, spoke with Players Association attorneys at length regarding the investigation; and (5) only after giving each of you multiple opportunities to meet with the NFL investigators and to share with them your version of the events surrounding the program. The suspensions imposed were reasonable action taken to preserve public confidence in, and the integrity of, the game of professional football."
Goodell did leave the door open for future face-to-face meetings with these players should they feel that they've found new evidence to support their respective cases, but he did preface the above-mentioned statement with another one telling the players that they've "elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeals process...".
This shouldn't come as much of a surprise, seeing as how Goodell is judge, jury and executioner in the NFL's conduct policy area. This was one of the initial areas that the players union wanted to be addressed and changed during the early battles in last year's CBA negotiations, but eventually gave up on that particular fight to address other issues. So, while the players may feel that these suspensions are unfair (which is a reasonable argument), they could have had a shot at altering the conduct review and punishment systems in last year's CBA had they really wanted to push it.