Saints bounties: Jonathan Vilma leaves appeals hearing with Roger Goodell, calls it a "sham"
New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma arrives at the National Football League's headquarters, Monday, June 18, 2012 in New York. Vilma and three other players are appealing their suspensions for their role in the Saints bounty program. / AP Photo/Mark Lennihan
(CBS/AP) NEW YORK - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell held appeals hearings Monday in the Saints bounty case for four suspended players, who complained that the process is unfair and the league hasn't proven anything.
Goodell met Monday at NFL headquarters with New Orleans linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who is out for the 2012 season, and defensive end Will Smith, who has been docked for four games; Green Bay defensive end Anthony Hargrove, suspended for eight games; and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita (three games).
Vilma left first, after about an hour-long session in the morning.
The linebacker's attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said the NFL requested an adjournment to Monday afternoon, but he and Vilma refused. Ginsberg called the hearing "a sham" and said Goodell failed to present the evidence on which he based his decision to impose Vilma's penalty.
"Roger Goodell has taken three months to tear down what I built over eight years. It's tough to swallow. I have been linked to a bounty and it simply is not true," said Vilma, who is suing the commissioner for defamation.
"I don't know how I can get a fair process when he is the judge, jury and executioner. You're assuming it will be fair, but it's not."
Smith, Hargrove and Fujita had their appeals heard by Goodell at afternoon sessions, with their attorneys and lawyers for the NFL Players Association on hand at the league's Manhattan offices.
Those players and Vilma all were on the Saints roster when then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, by his own admission, ran a pay-for-pain operation that handed out cash bonuses for big hits on targeted opponents.
But the players dispute the league's contention that they were involved.
"The NFL's investigation has been highlighted by sensationalized headlines and unsubstantiated leaks to the media. I have yet to see anything that implicates me ... not in the last three months and not today," Fujita said. "The NFL has been careless and irresponsible, and at some time will have to provide answers."
The NFL turned over some evidence to the four players and the union on Friday, as required by the collective bargaining agreement. That information included some 200 pages of documents, with emails, power-point presentations, even handwritten notes, plus one video recording.
CBSSports.com's Mike freeman obtained the entire list of evidence the NFL turned over to the union - and Freeman says "the evidence isn't all that convincing." Freeman notes there is one document that says "$5,000 QB out pool" but not much else suggesting a cash-for-hits system.
"The NFL likely has the goods but is holding back," Freeman writes. "But what they turned over to union, from what I've seen, doesn't prove a whole lot."
A ledger that reportedly documents payments of $1,000 for plays called "cart-offs" and $400 for "whacks," as well as $100 fines for mental errors, was not in the material.
Previously, Goodell suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the season and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games. Saints general manager Mickey Loomis got eight games, while Williams now with the St. Louis Rams was suspended indefinitely.
The NFL's investigation of the Saints found Williams ran a system for three years under which payouts were set on specific opponents, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. The program was in effect from 2009, when New Orleans won the Super Bowl, until last season.
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