After meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and several other attorneys representing the league, suspended Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma left an appeal hearing after about an hour and said he would not return. His attorney, Peter Ginsberg, called the proceedings "a sham" and ripped Goodell for wielding "draconian" powers over his client.
Three other suspended players - Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita - also left the hearing but we expected to return when they resume at 1:45 p.m. The hearings, which began at 10 a.m. at the league's New York offices, were postponed after attorneys representing the players said that evidence supplied by the NFL did not arrive in time on Friday to satisfy a stipulation that evidence must be turned over three calendar days before a hearing. The evidence was submitted Friday afternoon, prompting the attorneys to complain that the league violated terms of the collective bargaining agreement because it did not arrive at least 72 hours before the hearing.
"There are some fundmental issues that had come to the forefront today," Ginsberg told reporters outside the league's offices on Park Ave. "One is a question about how we ended up in a proceeding where the commissioner so unilaterally and in draconian fashion believes he can take control of a proceeding like this ... When you look at the documents, it’s clear that the commissioner has withheld from us thousands of pages that he gathered during the course of his supposed investigation. He was also unwilling to present any witnesses to us."
The players had asked that Saints coaches appear at the hearing, but the NFL declined to honor that request.
Ginsberg said he and Vilma would not return to the hearings.
"For more abuse of the process and abuse of Jonathan's rights, we’ve decided that enough’s enough," Ginsberg said. "The commissioner knows what the evidence is. If he chooses to ignore the evidence, then we have to proceed as best we can for Jonathan to reclaim his reputation."
Vilma, who is suing Goodell for defamation of character, said he remains extremely upset at the damage done to his reputation over his alleged involvement in the bounty scandal.
"Roger Goodel has taken three months to tarnish what I've built over eight years of my career," he said. "It’s tough to swallow knowing that from here on out, no matter where I go, I’ll be forever linked to a bountygagte that’s simply not true. Everyone will have their opinions on it and efveryone will either believe me or not believe me. There’s no in between. It’s unfortunate this process has been the way it is, because it’s just not true."
Vilma also slammed Goodell for having such sweeping authority over disciplinary issues involving players.
"I don’t know how you get a fair process when you have a judge, jury and executioner [in Goodell]," Vilma said. "He’s made a ruling and is obviously going to stick by that ruling. It's hard to go into a process assuming that it’s fair. You have to assume that it’s not."