Reporting Daryl Ruiter
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has upheld the suspension of Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and three other players for their alleged roles in the New Orleans Saints’ pay-for-performance/bounty program the league announced Tuesday.
Goodell denied the appeal of Fujita as well as the appeals of Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma which were heard two weeks ago in New York.
As a result of Goodell’s ruling, Fujita remains suspended without pay for the first 3 games of the 2012 regular season.
In a letter to the four players, Goodell cited their challenge of procedural issues and not providing evidence or testimony to contradict the league’s original findings as the reasons why he decided not to reduce their penalties.
“Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions,” Goodell wrote. “Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process.
“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.”
Although Goodell upheld his initial ruling, he did leave the door open for a potential reduction should the players wish to meet with him and provide evidence of their innocence.
“While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA, I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion,” Goodell said. “The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each still welcome to do so.”
Shortly after Goodell’s ruling was announced, the NFLPA responded.
“The players are disappointed with the League’s conduct during this process,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement. Moreover, the Commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator.
“The NFLPA has never and will never condone dangerous or reckless conduct in football and to date, nothing the League has provided proves these players were participants in a pay-to-injure program. We will continue to pursue all options.”
In an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Peter King earlier this year, Fujita admitted that he paid teammates bonuses for making big defensive plays while a member of the Saints from 2006-09.
“Over the years I’ve paid out a lot of money for big plays like interceptions, sacks and special teams tackles inside the 20,” Fujita told King. “But I’ve never made a payment for intentionally injuring another player.”
Fujita also told King that he paid players directly and did not put money into a “pot.”
Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, is suspended for 8 games, Smith is suspended for 4 games and Vilma is suspended for the entire 2012 season.