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    Patrick Sullivan

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  • Upon Further Review..

    BountyGate V - Return of Tags

    OK. I read the whole 22 page decision by Tagliabue.


    First and foremost, he did not re-judge the conclusion based on the facts of the case, i.e. Guilty or Innocent, i.e. de novo.
    Under these principles and the terms of Article 46, I am not reviewing

    Goodell’s October 9, 2012 findings and conclusions de novo.
    He DID rejudge from scratch the sentencing.

    Second, he was judging an appeal of Goodell's 2nd ruling (if someone has a link to it, please post). Remember Goodell's First Ruling which levied the suspensions was overturned by the 3 judge panel. He then made a 2nd ruling based on Conduct Detrimental and levied the same suspensions. It seems that many charges were dropped between the 1st and 2nd ruling, although the media didn't seem to pick up on that.

    Third, for some reason, this appeal decision focuses in solely, for Vilma, on the defensive meeting on the night prior to the NFCC and a bounty on Brett Favre. No mention of regular season bounties, no mention of Kurt Warner.

    Even though here is some of the original remarks by the League.

    New Orleans Saints players and at least one assistant coach maintained a bounty pool of up to $50,000 the last three seasons to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opposing players, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, the NFL said Friday. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.

    The NFL said the pool amounts reached their height of $50,000 or more in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.

    Tag's Findings

    Tags did have to judge whether the 4 were innocent or guilty, simply because an innocent person should have no sentence. But he did so more like a booth review, where there had to be conclusive evidence to overrule the call on the field, which was Godell's.

    Also Tags made a basic ruling about Pay for Performance pools. He found historically that they were widespread, sanctioned by the league, only added to the League Policies in 2007(called The Bounty Rule), and when other clubs (such as the Patriots in 2008) were found to be violating Pay4Perf rules was a small fine to the Club and no players. In 2008 Patriots were fined $25,000. No players were even fined.

    Thus suspensions for Pay4Performance were minor issues for Club discipline, never player discipline.

    Scott Fulita -

    First Godell Ruling - Commissioner Goodell found that Scott Fujita pledged a significant amount of money to the Program, including for cart-offs and knockouts, and failed to act to stop the Program. He suspended Fujita without pay for three games.

    Second Godell Ruling - In the summary of Godell's 2nd ruling, he made two findings:

    1) Fujita created a Pay for Performance fund of his own, but did not offer any money for injury.
    2) The League also contends that, in determining whether Fujita engaged in conduct detrimental, it is of no importance that he claims never to have offered money for hits on opponents such as cart-offs or knockouts. The League urges that merely offering rewards for big
    plays - - in which Fujita engaged “while a respected leader of the Saints’ defense and role model for other players” - - clearly violates the NFL Constitution and Bylaws.

    Note: From the 1st to the 2nd finding, Goodell has dropped charges of contributing money for injuries.

    Tags did not overrule #1 (affirmed), but overruled #2. Thus Tags ruled that a Pay4Performance pool does NOT reach the level of Conduct Detrimental. The Fujita did not do anything that can be covered by CD, and his suspension is vacated.

    Will Smith -

    Goodell's First Finding -

    1) Will Smith, as a Saints’ defensive team captain, had
    assisted Coach Williams in establishing and funding the Program

    2) That Smith pledged significant sums of money during the 2009 season playoffs towards the Program for cart-offs and knockouts of Saints’ opposing players.

    Goodell's Second Finding-

    1) and 2) Same as First.

    3) Because Will Smith was a defensive leader, Goodell can single him out for discipline.

    Tags affirmed 1) and 2) but overruled #3. Since about two dozen other players engaged in "The Progam" discipline for one member cannot be significantly different than for all. No basis for singling out "team leaders". Suspension Vacated.

    Anthony Hargrove -

    Goodell's First Finding -

    1) Hargrove participated in The Program.
    2) Hargrove lied to Goodell during questioning.

    Goodell's Second Finding -

    1) omitted.
    2) Same, while claiming the fact that coaches instructed Hargrove to lie was irrelevant.

    Tags ruled that historically no player had been more than fined for obstruction of an investigation, such as the Brett Favre fine of $50,000. Tags ruled that coaches telling a player to lie was relevant. A seven Game suspension was unwarrented. Sentencing vacated.

    Jonathan Vilma -

    Goodell's First Finding -

    1) Participated and funded "The Program".
    2) Made specific offers for Warner and Favre.

    Goodell's Second Finding -

    1) Same.
    2) Omit Warner, only Favre.

    On Vilma specifically, Tags ruling cited Williams and Cerullo saying Vilma did offer $10K for getting Brett Favre out of the game in a defensive meeting on the night before the NFCC. Vilma and Vitt said he did not. No other interviews were cited. It is inconclusive whether any of the 30 or so other people in the meeting were interviewed, although if they were, they should have been cited.

    Thus Tags did not overrule Godell's judgement that Vilma did it for Favre.

    Tags also said there was not sufficient evidence that Vilma's speech was actually a factor in on field actions. That combined with the orchestration of the Saturday meeting by the coaches meant the Suspension was not warranted.


    Tags Overruled and established:

    - Pay for Performance does not warrent Player discipline. It is a minor Club issue.
    - Team Leaders cannot be punished differently from all other miscreants.
    - Suspension is an inappropriate discipline for "Obstruction of an NFL investigation".
    - For Vilma, his speech was not shown to correlate with on the field behavior, thus not worthy of suspension.

    Tags did not Overrule:

    - "The Program" included pay for "Cartoffs" et al, i.e. injuries.
    - 3 of the 4 initially charged players participated in the program.
    - Vilma offerred to pay for Favre.

    Thus Tags found:

    For the reasons set forth in this Final Decision on Appeal, I affirm the factual findings of Commissioner Goodell; I conclude that Hargrove, Smith, and Vilma engaged in “conduct detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football”; and I
    vacate all player discipline.
    i.e. for 3 out of 4 players, Goodell's 2nd findings were not overruled, but Goodell's punishments were aberrational and were vacated.

    Comments 21 Comments
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      The important finding on Vilma was essentially a speech issue. Even if we agree that Vilma made the offer (something he disputes) does it matter, if he never showed any money or paid any money?

      I had missed the point that PFT and you highlight: Tagliabue did not conduct a from-scratch investigation. He accepted the results of Goodell's investigation at face value, however flawed they might have been.

      That's a nice legal strategy for protecting his law firm's client, Roger Goodell, in lawsuits. Wriggles like an eel, does that Tagliabue.

      My guess is that both Tagliabue and Goodell hope that by vacating the penalties, the whole thing will go away.

      I suspect the only way to make Vilma's lawsuit go away, however, might be a public retraction and apology by Goodell. However, since any admission of wrongdoing by Goodell might invite even more lawsuits, I can't see that happening.
    1. darvon's Avatar
      I think the speech without money or payment could be disciplined, but Tags said not waay overboard like a year's suspension. Not without some historical buildup to that point.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by darvon View Post
      I think the speech without money or payment could be disciplined, but Tags said not waay overboard like a year's suspension. Not without some historical buildup to that point.
      Is there something in the NFL rules which prohibits such speech? Surely action (money) would have to accompany it, for it to be sanctionable?

      Censoring speech in an environment where fiery, emotional speeches are the order of the week is a very risky proposition. It opens up all sorts of problems. Nobody wants their pre-game speeches given a forensic examination.

      Free speech doesn't exist in a workplace, I understand that. But employers need to be meticulous when punishing speech.
    1. edave's Avatar
      The speech issue had a lot of attention devoted to it (nearly two full pages) and Tagliabue choses his words pretty carefully I'd say.

      Another point that jumped out at me was that there was no transcript of the original Hargrove interview (Tagliabue says it was impossible to determine what questions were asked, therefore it was not possible to determine whether any bending of the truth occurred beyond what every other Saint player had done). What a terribly sloppy way to run an investigation.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by edave View Post
      The speech issue had a lot of attention devoted to it (nearly two full pages) and Tagliabue choses his words pretty carefully I'd say.
      You'll have to point out to me those passages.

      I see nothing about prohibitions on speech. I see a segment devoted to the Saints slideshow. But Tagliabue never references the speech issue. Instead, he immediately goes to NFL on-field rules about player safety. Taglaibue is talking about coaching methods, not fiery pre--game speeches.
    1. edave's Avatar
      Let's see, just did a quick rescan...

      On most of page 20 Tagliabue is wrestling with what was was said via conflicting testimony (note that Vitt does not come off well).

      Most of the determination on Vilma is about speech, so the last four paragraphs on page 21 and the first three on 22.
    1. darvon's Avatar
      One thing I didn't realize was that some of the charges were dropped when Goodell did the 2nd set of suspensions.

      Especially the Warner bounty and Fujita's participation in The Program.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by edave View Post
      Let's see, just did a quick rescan...

      On most of page 20 Tagliabue is wrestling with what was was said via conflicting testimony (note that Vitt does not come off well).

      Most of the determination on Vilma is about speech, so the last four paragraphs on page 21 and the first three on 22.
      To me, that's not about speech. It's Tagliabue beginning another of his contortions. He's trying to assert that Vilma offered a bounty. Then, in vacating the punishment, he says there's no proof that Vilma ever backed up his speech with money.

      Here's the key to the speech issue:

      "If one were to punish certain off-field talk in locker rooms, meeting rooms, hotel rooms or elsewhere without applying a rigorous standard that separated real threats or “bounties” from rhetoric and exaggeration, it would open a field of inquiry that would lead nowhere."

      IOW, it's not speech, but actions, that needs to be monitored and be subject to discipline.
    1. edave's Avatar
      What can I say, we have different ways of seeing things...

      It is essential to recognize that Vilma is being most severely disciplined for “talk” or speech at a team meeting on the evening before the Saints-Vikings game. He is not being punished for his performance on the field and, indeed, none of the discipline of any player here relates to on-field conduct. No Saints’ player was suspended for on-field play by the League after the game in question. If the League wishes to suspend a player for pre-game talk including “offers” to incentivize misconduct, it must start by imposing enhanced discipline for illegal hits that involve the kind of player misconduct that it desires to interdict. The relationship of the discipline for the off-field “talk” and actual on-field conduct must be carefully calibrated and reasonably apportioned. This is a standard grounded in common sense and fairness. It rests also on the competence of NFL officiating and the obligation and ability of the League to closely observe playing field misconduct, record it and review for illegal hits or other related misconduct.
      And ...

      Adding to the complexity, there is little evidence of the tone of any talk about a bounty before the Vikings game. Was any bounty pledged serious? Was it inspirational only? Was it typical “trash talk” that occurs regularly before and during games? The parties presented no clear answers. No witness could confirm whether Vilma had any money in his hands as he spoke; no evidence was presented that $10,000 was available to him for purposes of paying a bounty or otherwise. There was no evidence that Vilma or anyone else paid any money to any player for any bounty-related hit on an opposing player in the Vikings game.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Seems to me that both those quotes buttress my point. In each, Tagliabue is careful to make the connection between talk and action.
    1. brauneyz's Avatar
      darvon, while I fit squarely in the camp of 'don't care anymore about this topic', I do want to thank you for this post. It is so you - helpful, thought-provoking and above all, civil. Kudos sir.
    1. ScottDCP's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by brauneyz View Post
      darvon, while I fit squarely in the camp of 'don't care anymore about this topic', I do want to thank you for this post. It is so you - helpful, thought-provoking and above all, civil. Kudos sir.
      Never did, but yeah, what she said.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by ScottDCP View Post
      Never did, but yeah, what she said.
      A Few Good Men
      Paths of Glory
      All The Presidents Men
      The Verdict

      Abuse of power is an enduring theme.
    1. darvon's Avatar
      I don't think this is abuse of power, let me tell you what I think it is.

      When Roger came to power, he started doing a lot more player punishment. At first he punished people who had come afould of the law. When they were found guilty of dogfighter or unlicensed weapons or carrying a gun in NYC, the state court system nailed down the judgement of guilt, of fact, and all Roger had to do was simply take the established FACT that Player X did a crime and discipline accordingly for bringing shame to the shield.

      So in the early "Conduct Detrimental" cases, the court established guilt or innocence. In PED cases, a highly qualified BioChem lab established guilt or innocence. In H2H cases, there was superslo mo video tape and 12 camera angles.

      There was never any issue of "Did he do it?" I well staffed highly experience outside party nailed down the facts.

      But then Goodell went one step farther into an area before the courts decided the facts with Ben Roethlisberger. But Ben didn't want to contest the Suspension because he feared the potential for greater trouble and he just wanted everything to quiet down and go away.

      And an enboldened Goodell then made another finding of fact with the Bounty case. He tried to do what Police do and he found it difficult and made mistakes. The players that he judged "Guilty" said they didn't do it and didn't back down because there was no larger trouble that they feared.

      Because Goodell tried to play police, and prosecutor, and judge, the public put all of their TV Lawyer knowledge onto Bountygate, even though it wasn't a legal proceeding. And it fell lacking. People expected the players to have the same rights as in a trial, even though they didn't. And the players said "I didn't do it" and didn't back down, and had roughly the same legal $$ as the League.

      The various problems of BountyGate is simply Roger finding out that it is hard to be the Police and the Prosecutor when it isn't cut and dried that "He did it", like PEDs and H2H, and when the Perp doesn't cave for fear of problems bigger than Roger.

      I think Roger needs to get out of the Police business. He got lucky with Donte Stallworth. Donte could have contested the issue in Florida and probably have been found innocent, which would have made a problem for Roger.

      And his luck continued when Ben feared what could blow up, and let Roger punish him without finding fact.

      But now Roger's luck ran out. The public has high standards for Police and Prosecutors. Roger won't win that game. He needs to stop.
    1. edave's Avatar
      I'm largely in agreement darvon, although I do tend to think it was an abuse of power. I'd not make an excellent ruler.

      To use your analogy, Goodell's police force was abysmal. He pretty much owns the prosecution team and they might have been worse (how do you not document an interview?) and is the judge. His use of common sense and fairness is lacking and both were called out in the report by the man he replaced.

      I don't believe the public has particularly high standards for any of the three legs of this stool, but they do like to see them independent and at least two out of three ought to be competent.
    1. Bengals1181's Avatar
      Quote Originally Posted by wxwax View Post
      A Few Good Men
      Paths of Glory
      All The Presidents Men
      The Verdict

      Abuse of power is an enduring theme.

      funny you mention A Few Good Men. I thought of that yesterday as Pruitt was saying the players were just doing what they were told.

      What happens at the end of A Few Good Men? Exactly what Tagliabue did. In the end, it was found Dawson and Downey were just following orders, and they didn't have to go to jail. However, they were still found to have committed "conduct unbecoming" and kicked out of the marines because they should have known better. You don't get a pass on doing something wrong just because someone else told you to do it.

      That's exactly what happened here. They may have been following what their coaches ordered them to do, but they should have known better.
    1. Curtis's Avatar
      Roethlisberger was suspended for "conduct detrimental to the league" not because of alleged sexual assault but for a pattern of behavior and bad judgments that violated the conduct policy. The suspension was conditional, requiring positive reports from counseling and random drug testing, which is why it was eventually reduced. The Steelers were fined 200k dollars for Ben's violation and that was the final straw for Rooney who was already getting heat from angry fans and citizens of Pittsburgh about FrankenBen.
      They were prepared to trade him, they picked up Leftwich and were looking to go forward. In the end, the terms of the suspension were agreed upon by Goodell, Ben and Rooney. Rooney told Ben to use the time to get his act together. The Steelers still have Ben on a short leash. If he even puts a toe out of line he is gone. Since then, Ben has gotten married, graduated from school, etc. He's been scared straight.

      Goodell did his job and handed down the punishment properly. The bounty thing is just a mess. He said, she said. He lied, they lied. Saint Drew and his mouth.
      If Goodell would have handled the Saints like he did with the Steelers and Vick, we woudln't be talking about this.
    1. Trumpetbdw's Avatar
      Tagging onto what Curtis just said, I agree with him on the handling of Roethlisberger and Vick. While it could have been argued that Roethlisberger shouldn't have been suspended, I've always thought it was a good thing for Goodell to sit him down for 4 weeks. His off-field behavior was not criminal, but it was becoming reckless. It was a good opportunity for Goodell to show the league exactly how he'd handle the conduct policy. And if you'll remember, there were many players in the league who were happy that he was cracking down in this manner.

      However, the major difference between those cases and the Bounty case is that he was dealing with a person in Vick, and an organization in Pittsburgh that was willing to respect his authority and work with him. Roethlisberger, while I'm sure he didn't agree with the decision, showed enough respect to the Rooneys and Goodell to take the suspension seriously, scare himself straight, and learned from his missteps.

      The Saints showed Goodell organizational defiance. Whether or not it was warranted or not is a different debate entirely that's gone on for months on this, and many other sites, and is not something I'm going to rehash. But it's clear that Goodell felt the Saints were being blatantly insubordinate, and was likely acting in a reactionary fashion when he levied the punishments. Then, when the Saints team leadership went on a full-fledged public attack, while disputing some clear truths from the case (hello Drew Brees), Goodell dug in. It's why his eventual decision to delegate this process by handing it over to Tagliabue should have happened much sooner. It was clear from the start that there was too much bad blood that had quickly built up to allow the Saints and Goodell to amicably come to any type of compromise.

      The major difference between the Vick/Roethlisberger situations, and the Bounty case? The lock out. It is clear that he lost the trust of the players during that mess, and that probably helped to spark the vitriol coming out of NO once the bounty scandal broke.
    1. Curtis's Avatar
      The major difference between the Vick/Roethlisberger situations, and the Bounty case? The lock out. It is clear that he lost the trust of the players during that mess, and that probably helped to spark the vitriol coming out of NO once the bounty scandal broke.
      And you have to factor in the fines for helmet to helmet and defenseless players. Those erratic fines have pissed players off. If those fines were defined better, like 5k for the first and second offense. One game suspension for the player for the third offense. Maybe add a fine to the team along with that, and I don't think there would be an issue with Goodell. At least not to this magnitude.
    1. wxwax's Avatar
      Reading today's quotes from the players. And they say exactly what I'm thinking.

      "People actually think that we actually went out and did this, and we didn't do this," Smith said of the bounty program, adding that he had not decided whether to pursue any defamation claims of his own. "The only thing that was going on was a pay-for-performance that pretty much every other team in the league has and have had for years. That was it, I never participate in a bounty or put money down to injure another player or encourage other guys to injure other players."
      "I hate to say this because it sounds so conspiracy theorist, but it seems like the last, at least, month or so, especially once Tagliabue stepped in, it's very staged, as in, 'OK, how do we get ourselves out of this mess, let the players off," Brees said. "Thank God we have a union that can represent the players and fight the process and represent our guys. Unfortunately, the coaches don't have that. The coaches are told the way it's going to be, and they have no way to fight back unfortunately, because I'd say certainly Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Sean Payton didn't deserve what they got.

      "If someone would just come out in the league office and admit, 'You know what? We could have handled this situation better,' it would go such a long way with both players and fans. People would really come around to realize what this thing was all about because right now the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players."

      Add I'll highlight the important part of the AP's snapshot summary of the case:

      Tagliabue still found that Vilma and Smith took part in a Saints program that rewarded injurious hits and that Hargrove was not entirely truthful when NFL investigators asked him about the pool, but he said the suspensions levied by Goodell were disproportionate to how players had historically been punished for similar behavior, and because there was no clear link to "tough talk" about taking opponents out of game and the actual play on the field.

      IOW, there was never a pay-to-injure program.