After Browns linebacker Scott Fujita left an appeals hearing Monday with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, he said the league is targeting him in a “smear campaign” and insisted he has yet to see evidence that proves he was involved in a bounty program during his stint with the New Orleans Saints.
The NFL suspended Fujita for the first three games of the upcoming season, accusing him of contributing money to a pool administered by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that the league says paid players for injuring opponents. Fujita, who played for the Saints in 2006-09 and signed with the Browns in 2010, has denied the allegations.
“In the last couple of months, the NFL has embarked on a smear campaign highlighted by sensationalistic headlines … and unsubstantiated leaks to the media,” Fujita told reporters after he left the NFL’s headquarters in New York. “I have yet to see anything that implicates me in some pay-to-injure scheme — not in the last three months, not in the last three days, not today — and perhaps that’s because there’s nothing that could implicate me in some pay-to-injure scheme.
“It’s become increasingly clear to me that just because someone disagrees with the NFL’s interpretation of an incredibly flawed investigation, it’s assumed that he’s lying, and to me, that’s a shame. I’ve played 10 years in this league and throughout my career, I’ve done nothing but conduct myself in a positive manner. And this has impacted my reputation. This has impacted my ability to provide and earn for my family now and in the future, and I have a hard time with that. The NFL has been careless and irresponsible, and they’ve made mistakes.”
Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma (suspended for the entire 2012 season), Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove (suspended for eight games) and Saints defensive end Will Smith (suspended for four games) also attended the hearing, along with their lawyers and attorneys for the NFL Players Association. The union recently lost two grievances challenging Goodell’s authority to discipline the players over the allegations.
The NFL provided the players and the union with some evidence on Friday, per rules of the collective bargaining agreement. The information included about 200 pages of documents, including e-mails, power-point presentations, handwritten notes and a video recording, according to the Associated Press.
The union said the 16 exhibits submitted by the league “can hardly be characterized as hard evidence.”
After the hearing, the league shared documents and a video from its investigation with reporters — the same presentation the NFL made earlier Monday to the players, according to the Associated Press. One document reportedly showed an apparent bounty on quarterback Brett Favre of $35,000 during the NFC Championship game against the Minnesota Vikings in 2010.
The New Orleans Times Picayune reported Jeff Miller, the NFL’s director of security, said former Vikings coach Brad Childress, who’s in his first year as the Browns’ offensive coordinator, told the league in 2010 that one of his players claimed that a Saints player said the Saints had bounties on Favre and then-Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner. The Vikings player later recanted his story.
The league also presented reporters with a slide shown to the Saints’ defense before a playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks in 2011. It features a photograph of Duane Chapman, star of TV’s Dog the Bounty Hunter, and it reads, “Now it’s time to do our job ... collect bounty $$$! Let’s go hunting!”
According to the Associated Press, NFL lead counsel Jeff Pash said Goodell will “hold the record open” until at least the end of Friday for players to respond to the evidence.
Before the hearing began, Fujita, a member of the players association’s executive committee, Hargrove and Smith released a statement through the union:
“We are in attendance today not because we recognize the commissioner’s jurisdiction to adjudicate regarding these specious allegations, but because we believe the league would attempt to publicly mischaracterize our refusal to attend. We will not address the substance of the NFL’s case because this is not the proper venue for adjudication, and there has been no semblance of due process afforded to us. … Shame on the National Football League and Commissioner Goodell for being more concerned about ‘convicting’ us publicly than being honorable and fair to men who have dedicated their professional lives to playing this game with honor.”
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.