Anthony Hargrove and the three other players suspended in the “BountyGate” scandal will have their appeals heard today by none other than the man who handed them out, Roger Goodell. That is one big bone of contention for the players and their representatives, who previously pushed for an impartial arbitrator but lost that battle.
According to Keven Seifert of ESPN, Hargrove’s agent, Phil Williams, is not the type of loud-mouthed agent who goes spouting off on a regular basis. Yet, he felt so strongly about this case and the “injustice” being layed down on Hargrove that he put his own reputation on the line with a blistering letter questioning the NFL’s honesty and underhanded tactics.
The NFL waited until just days before the appeal hearing to release their “evidence,” in a rather transparent attempt to make it as difficult as possible for the players’ representatives to build an appeals case. While it’s accepted as fact that a bounty program was in place at New Orleans (as it probably was on many other teams), is it fair to single out just four players for punishment when many more participated?
But beyond those types of questions, my main issue with this whole case is how the NFL (and specifically Roger Goodell) are suing strong-arm tactics and in the process, eliminating any sense of fairness. This would be like a trial judge who imposed a sentence showing up on the judge’s bench when the same “defendant” appeals their case.
The dictionary definition of a czar is an “autocratic ruler exercising great authority or power.” There is no doubt that in the world of football, Roger Goodell has been a “czar” for quite some time. He is quickly approaching the title of despot – a tyrant or oppressor with absolute power.
Perhaps he’s feeling the pressure of this massive concussion suit and is circling the wagons in every way possible. But there’s still no excuse for being that unfair and frankly, I find it distasteful.
(Going off on a tangent, there is a VERY thought-provoking article at the Business Insider on what they see as potential radical changes that may be coming to the sport of football at every level as a result of the concussion issue. A must-read, whether you agree with their conclusions, or not.)
Getting back to Goodell, Hargrove’s agent asks some very valid questions, none of which anyone at the NFL will care to answer. Here’s the full transcript of Williams’ letter to the NFL:
Questions for the League Office in Regards to “Bountygate:”
Why is the NFL acting in a way that, to many of us, appears to be so “cloak and dagger”? Even though the CBA gave you the right to wait until Friday afternoon to hand over “evidence”, was it really necessary to do so? Why was it important to give them (the NFLPA and players) only a weekend to study what you considered to be the “evidence”? If these men have committed such grievous crimes that you have determined that their careers should be in danger and/or their names sullied, why be so secretive about the “evidence” that you use to condemn them? Do you care about NFL players enough to be above board with them? They are what makes the NFL the NFL, are they not? If there is a large “pool” of players that you could have made examples of from across the NFL (and there is!), why did you choose these men? And do you really think it fair to “make examples” out of them? What if you are the ones chosen to be “made examples of” in the future?
Why must you demand your right to be judge, jury, and executioner? Even if you have the right, must you use it? Is there anything to be lost by allowing those who are impartial to have a say-so in whether these judged men are truly given a shot at justice? And did you sincerely consider what you gave the NFLPA sufficient enough to tarnish men’s careers and reputations? If you believe the “evidence” to be so substantial that you would espouse the 50,000-plus page file, why would most of those pages have zero to do with “bounties” or even “pay-for-performance”? Do you actually have any concrete evidence that any player from another team was injured as a result of a “bounty” and that a player from the Saints was therefore paid accordingly? Can you honestly say that the Saints employed a 3-year “bounty program” if no one was ever paid for a “bounty”? Would that not constitute one of the worst followed programs ever witnessed? Should there not have been dozens of rewards paid out, if in fact, “bounties for injuries” (which is what this was all about in the beginning, I think) paid out money? And why would your “independent” counsel be so highly paid for their counsel (by you) and also be so secretive? Again, if the facts are so obvious, why not allow someone truly impartial to make the final decision and therefore validate your judgments?
Is honesty truly paramount to you? If so, why did you take Anthony Hargrove’s declaration and state that it said things that it did not say? Is that honest? Why did you state that Anthony “admitted to lying” when he has done no such thing? Do you hold yourself to the same standard as you hold others? Have you “admitted to lying”? To clarify, would you consider it lying to say someone “admitted to lying” when they did not do so? And why did you not consider the remarkably difficult situation that Anthony was put in by his coaches, who to him were the NFL”? What would you have done if you had been back in the NFL for less than a year, having served a year-long suspension, with the threat of your career ending (again) hanging over your head? Would you have disobeyed your employer? Would you now? And is it possible that the interview was aboutsemantics, anyway?
Why did you state that the players declined to be interviewed? Did you not know that Anthony agreed to be interviewed in early April, even scheduled a meeting (Tuesday, April 3, 10A.M.) and was told he would be sent flight information, waited for it, and never even received a cancellation notice? If this is true, which it is, is it fair to state as fact that he simply declined, after which he again agreed to consider meeting if certain criteria were met, which you declined to do? Is that being totally truthful? And why do you say that he spoke to someone on another team about an alleged “bounty” program back during the time in question, when in fact he did not? And why was he the only player you chose to interview about the so-called “bounty” program at that time? Was it because of his difficult past? Was it possibly because he was an easy target?
Do you not recognize that we sometimes utter words or phrases that have different meanings depending on their context? For example, have you as fathers ever told your children that you wanted to “tear them up” or “wring their neck” or “blister their hide” or some such other threat? Tough words, but have we not all spoken such rash things at times, though obviously not meaning the full extent of their definition? Do moments of “lost tempers” or “harsh words” for our children “when things get emotional” constitute “programs of terror” on them? Does clamoring for an 18-game schedule exhibit wanton disregard for the health and safety of the players you “lead” (or was that simply a motivational ploy as it related to the negotiation of the CBA)? Is it possible that some might construe that as a “bounty program” in its own right, i.e. extra revenues resulting in a probability of more injuries? In fact, is it possible that the overwhelming majority of this pressing dilemma is about semantics? And if so, is it possible to admit it? Or, has the genie escaped the bottle with no hope of return?
I love Anthony Hargrove. Plain and simple. I have watched him grow from a dysfunctional young man into a man that I admire and respect. Perfect? No. But who is? I have watched him reach “the bottom” and then mature in ways that almost defy what I could have possibly hoped for. He has learned to handle adversity in ways I believe we all could learn from, not the least of which is how I have watched him deal with his potential suspension and what has been said about him and his supposed role in what has been called Bountygate. Though a more appropriate name might be Semantics-gate.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.