21 June 2012

Examining the Flaws of BountyGate's Evidence

If you thought I had truly closed the casket on this thing, then you're probably not fully aware of how pathologically obsessive I have the propensity to be. I'm sure this isn't much of a surprise to anyone who knows me, but I digress. 

With that said, and with the new information that's continued to surface this week, I've exhumed this BountyGate corpse until further notice. 

In the hopes of keeping this as succinct as possible--which will surely be a fruitless task--I'm going to examine a variety of the NFL's public claims and illustrate the known, gaping flaws in each one. 

This post is mostly intended as an extension of this original post, so there's a bit of overlapping content. 

Here goes. INRATS? You've been forewarned. 

(update: please check the comments for additional information I've overlooked. A few alert Saints' fans ((Kevin and Jay)) added relevant info that I missed.)

*1) ALLEGATION: The NFL's Original Statement, claiming a three-year bounty program:
A lengthy investigation by the NFL's security department has disclosed that between 22 and 27 defensive players on the New Orleans Saints, as well as at least one assistant coach, maintained a "bounty" program funded primarily by players in violation of NFL rules during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons, the NFL announced today.
>1) FLAW: First, if the NFL's investigation was so comprehensive and airtight, why couldn't they identify exactly how many players were involved? Why the nebulous range? More importantly, why were only four players punished if, at the least, 22 were involved? 

Additionally, nowhere in any of the evidence the NFL has disclosed is there any indication of misdeeds occurring during 2010. The only accusations beyond those in 2009 (three games) are an alleged bounty on Aaron Rodgers in the opening game of 2011 season (more on these games later). How does this constitute violations for three consecutive seasons? 

*2) ALLEGATION: More from SI's Peter King in his original report on the scandal:
Goodell is angry about this sustained use of paying players to hurt players on other teams. "The payments here are particularly troubling because they involved not just payments for performance, but also for injuring opposing players," Goodell said in a league statement Friday afternoon. 
 >2) FLAW: Where has "sustained use" to "hurt players" ever been shown? Moreover, what opposing players were ever deliberately injured? And who was paid for doing so? Does anyone know the answer to these simple questions? Or is it just some baseless PR drivel the NFL hopes to pawn off as truth?  

The evidence presented on Monday indicates money exchanged for performance benchmarks--legal plays--but what "payments for injuring opposing players" have been shown to exist? The NFL is still yet to verify this claim with on-field proof, corroborated by documentation of payment. Even if one player was targeted in one game, it is not evidence of a three-year, pay-to-injure scheme.

*3) ALLEGATION: Anthony Hargove's Declaration verifies existence of a bounty program. 

Initially, the NFL presented Anthony Hargrove's "declaration" as proof that a bounty system existed. Specifically, the NFL's hired gun, Mary Jo Whitesaid this about Hargrove's declaration. Emphases mine: 
There hasn't been any denial of the existence of that program. One of the Saints players (current Packers DE Anthony Hargrove) who was disciplined yesterday actually submitted a declaration in which he acknowledged that the program existed, acknowledged his participation and admitted that he lied to the NFL investigators in 2010. 
 >3) FLAW: When Hargrove's declaration was subsequently made public by Yahoo!, we learned that Hargrove actually said this, verbatim. Again, emphasis mine:
The NFL security personnel then asked several questions about whether there was a bounty program, whether Saints' players contributed money to a bounty pool, and whether I had ever received bounty money. In response to these questions, I followed the clear directions I had received from Coach Williams and Coach Vitt, and I repeatedly denied any knowledge of any bounty or bounty program.
No matter how you interpret what Hargrove said, it's (ahem) proof that he denied the existence of a bounty program when the NFL just days prior said he "acknowledged that the program existed, [and] acknowledged his participation in it." Which, of course, he didn't. 

Why would the NFL publicly lie about this? Were they not anticipating this document being leaked to the public? Were they trying to deceitfully sway public opinion by delivering what now appear to be stark, transparent falsehoods? 

Furthermore, Hargrove responded to the NFL's initial characterization of his statements by saying the NFL "grossly mischaracterized [his] words." 

*4) ALLEGATION: Anthony Hargrove on video, demanding bounty payment. 

Initially, the NFL accused Anthony Hargrove of asking for a bounty payment related to a hit on Brett Favre in the NFC Championship game during the 2009 season. 

Months ago, Peter King reported that Hargrove was overheard on camera saying "Pay me my money!" Later the NFL claimed Hargrove said "Bobby, give me my money!" For whatever reason, Hargrove's alleged words were either altered, misinterpreted, or falsified. 

>4) FLAW: Even if you're unconcerned with the disparity in the descriptions of what Hargrove was accused of saying, Hargrove took to the streets on Monday and stridently defended himself by delivering a lengthy statement in front of NFL headquarters. In part, about the demand for payment in that game, he said:
I felt similar to how I had felt when I read the NFL's statement about my declaration. Bewildered ... 
The NFL has a sideline shot of our defense gathered around Joe Vitt discussing what we might should expect if the backup quarterback comes into the game. It shows me off to the side with some of our other defensive linemen on the bench with their backs to the camera. The final snippet has an arrow pointed at me with the caption indicating that I had said, “give me my money.” 
Here's the problem with that. It wasn't me. That's right. The NFL got their evidence all wrong. In their rush to convict me, they made a very serious error. Is it intentional? I don't know. But one thing I do know with absolute certainty...it...was...not...me!  
Like I said, lean in closer, look closer, listen closer. It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me. But the NFL does not know me well. They simply make assumptions. 
Furthermore, on Wednesday an ex-Saint came to Hargrove's defense. Earl Heyman, a Saints' player during the '09 season, had this to say:
I was right there, right there in that closeup [of the defensive huddle] they're talking about ... Every time they came off the field I was standing right there talking to them, and I know who said it, and I can say with 100 percent accuracy who said it, and I know 100 percent it wasn't Anthony.
So why did the NFL get this wrong? Why was Hargrove implicated? Did they believe Hargrove was an easy target for coercion because he's twice violated the NFL's drug policy? Did they select him as a participant because he'd likely fear for his career prospects if he didn't go along with the allegations? Did they decide to incriminate him with these words because there's another video--shown far and wide--of Hargrove shouting on the sideline "Favre is done!" after a particularly vicious hit? 

Twice the NFL has publicly accused Hargrove of something and twice they've wholly misrepresented it. Doesn't this call into question the quality of the NFL's investigation as a whole? If not, doesn't it at least undermine the authenticity of the public characterizations of what they've claimed as evidence? 

*5) ALLEGATION: The Saints kept a ledger detailing bounty payments.

In early June, Yahoo! broke a seemingly explosive story about a ledger that documented bounty payments. The original story from Yahoo! (via league sources) indicated that "bounty" payments were paid after the Saints-Giants game in 2009 and the Saints-Buffalo game in 2009. 

>5FLAWS: Where to start? First, soon after Mike Florio (along with numerous Saints' fans) caught onto the fact there wasn't anything questionable about the Bills' game, PFT reported it as a fraudulent claim, and the NFL immediately amended its report. Oops. Oh yeah, it wasn't the Buffalo game, it was actually the Carolina game in 2009! Sorry guys, honest mistake! 

Soon after that, The Angry Who Dat blog further debunked the claim of bounties in the Carolina game and Mike Florio reported on AWD's yeoman's effort and backed his sentiments.  

To make matters worse, the NFL also claimed that the ledger indicated that Roman Harper was paid $1000 for knocking Brandon Jacobs out of the 2009 game against the Giants. However, Jacobs only went out of the game momentarily after a clean, legal tackle by Darren Sharper (look at the play-by-play starting at 12:40 of the 2nd quarter). Ultimately, that allegation didn't mesh with its original public implication nor did it indicate any sort of malice or intent to injure. 

Again, what we have is a series of allegations later proven to be fatally flawed or just outright wrong. Is the NFL really this incompetent? Or are they just hoping that the players and the public will capitulate to their barrage of half-truths?

Ultimately, in the case of the "ledger"--a piece of evidence Yahoo's Jason Cole said could be "extremely damning to the players' cause"--the NFL failed to even submit this, just as they chose not to submit Hargrove's Declaration, as official evidence to the NFLPA. 

Specious. If not completely fabricated. 

*6) ALLEGATION: Mike Ornstein offered a $5000 bounty on Aaron Rodgers in 2011. 

Initially, the NFL claimed they were in possession of an email from Mike Ornstein, sent to Sean Payton, pledging a bounty on Aaron Rodgers in 2011. 

>6) FLAW: Two months later, when the complete contents of Ornstein's email were revealed, we learned that this email wasn't sent to Sean Payton but rather to Saints' spokesman Greg Bensel, who then forwarded the email to several Saints' coaches. 

Further, the lengthy email touched on a variety of subjects and included the bounty pledge as a postscript, one Ornstein insisted was a running joke for years among coaches after accusations of the Favre bounty. 

As I previously discussed here, no matter Ornstein's credibility, the discrepancy between what the NFL initially reported and the actual truth reveals a continued effort by the NFL to alter events into something more damning and concrete in order to bolster their tenuous body of evidence. 

The continuing act of evident prevarication is tacit admission by the NFL that their case is exceptionally weak. 

*7) ALLEGATION: Mike Ornstein corroborates a $10k bounty on Favre.

On Tuesday June 19th, media reports surfaced that Mike Ornstein confirmed to NFL officials that there was indeed a $10,000 bounty on Brett Favre. An official league transcript stated:
Mr. [Gregg] Williams and Mr. [Mike] Ornstein and another member of the Saints defensive coaching staff, all of whom were present at the meeting, all stated to NFL investigators that Mr. Vilma pledged $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the next week’s NFC championship game against the Minnesota Vikings.
>7) FLAW: Just hours after that report surfaced, Ornstein vehemently denied the allegation. He said:
I never corroborated $10,000 ... The only thing that I told them was that we had the [pregame] meeting, we jumped around, we screamed around, and I never saw [Vilma] offer one dime.  And I never heard him say it. Did I say to the league that I saw Jonathan Vilma offer $10,000? Absolutely not.
Mike Florio continues:
I asked Ornstein the question several different ways, to ensure there was no ambiguity.  He consistently and repeatedly (and at times profanely) denied ever telling the NFL that Vilma offered money to anyone who knocked Favre and/or Warner out of the 2009 playoff games.
Why such a glaring disparity in what actually happened? Why would the NFL claim corroboration by Ornstein when he's so pointedly denies doing so? Somebody's lying here. Who is it? Did the NFL think that because Ornstein's credibility is largely shot, they can falsely implicate him without risk? 

* 8) ALLEGATION: Joe Vitt contributed $5,000 to a bounty on Favre

When the NFLPA released on Monday the evidence submitted to them by the NFL, the now-infamous "transcribed note" indicated Joe Vitt pledging $5000 to a "QB out pool" prior to the NFCCG against Minnesota. Stuff like this immediately made the rounds in the media: 

> 8) FLAW: Vitt forcefully denied pledging the money, going so far as to call Roger Goodell and discuss the situation. After Vitt's conversation with Goodell, the NFL confirmed that Vitt did not offer money even though their most damning evidence--the transcribed handwritten note--said that he did. 

Specifically Vitt said in a statement on June 20th:
I did not pledge any money for any incentive, pay for performance, bounty or any other alleged program in connection with any game, including the 2010 NFC Championship.
Finally, it cannot be emphasized enough, none of our players, particularly those who are facing suspensions, ever crossed the white line with the intent to injure an opponent.
The clarification of this allegation is the most important development of the entire bounty scandal. The transcribed note (see it in this post), which is the only piece of "evidence" the NFL possesses that actually hints at an actual bounty--which mind you, was what these harsh punishments were for--contains information that the NFL publicly admits is unverifiable and, by extension, incorrect. 

Doesn't that discredit the validity of this note entirely? Even aside from the fact that it's a transcription (which was smartly compared to "a drawing of a fingerprint [as] evidence")? Are we supposed to believe one portion of a transcription is legitimate, while the NFL readily admits that another portion is not? So the person who is either interpreting the actual note, or dictating from memory what he remembers about a note that might or might not even exist, is to be trusted even when the NFL admits that what he's shared with them can't be verified as truth?    

Even though it will make no difference whatsoever, it's revelatory of the fatally-flawed and hastily-constructed body of evidence used to condemn the Saints. This note--its relevance, its authenticity, its actuality versus its characterization--is a perfect microcosm of the events of BountyGate. Even if you ignore all of the other reasonably dubious claims, this alone should be enough to invite a healthy skepticism. 

In short, whether you look at these events alone or in composite, it's abundantly clear that what the NFL has so desperately tried to sell the general public has been overwhelmingly flawed and less than damning every step along the way.

It's been little more than an orchestrated exercise in quackery. 


  1. Freakin amazing. Nobody does these breakdowns better than you, man.

  2. When there's nothing left to burn you have to set yourself on fire.

  3. Great job! To add a few to the list:

    *Goodell asserts that part of Payton's suspension is for "lying" about the continued "bounty" program. When Schefter (or whoever did that first ESPN press conference) asks him, "did Payton lie", Goodell says, "he should've known." Which is it--for lying, or for not knowing it was going on?

    Also, I believe that Payton's "lie" was the insistence that the program centered around PPF and not bounties. I think Goodell's "proof" that it was ongoing was the Ornstein emails--which have since been laughed out of the story.

    *The NFL also alleged many times that Hargrove and other players refused to meet with NFL execs, when it was the league who were canceling meetings. They were using that in press releases to vilify the players--which is pretty sick.

  4. None of this would have amounted in anything had the NFL been able to copyright WHO DAT and cash in at the Super Bowl to be played in NOLA. But since they lost the right to copyright said phrase the NFL delebritly wants to make sure the Saints don't have a shot to be in that number. And they want fans of wich ever teams do make it, to not want to be associated with the terms Who Dat, We Dat or any ofther Dat they cant cash in on.

  5. Somebody needs to hook Goodell up to a lie detector and find out why he has a hard on for the Saints. If it's personal, he needs to be ousted. If it's professional, he needs to submit physical evidence.

  6. Roger Goodell is a fucking asshole, plain and simple. Instead of gathering all of the evidence and having his ducks in a row, he just laid down the hammer and didn't care about the repercussions. If this were the Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers, or Giants, this wouldn't be a story.

  7. I belong to a Saints message board and was working on putting this exact thing together over the last 2 days. MUCH thanks for the article and saving me the work. However I would also add to it these points:

    1) The NFL claimed that it has 50000 pages of KEY evidence against the Saints. Upon release of 200 of those used to determine punishment of Saints players, it has to be noted that at least 90% of the 200 pages are irrelevant items pertaining to hydration, cleaning up food trays and slides about Mexico. Does the NFL have 50000 pages of evidence or just a lot of fluff and filler?

    2) In that 200 pages, why is an article published Jun6,2102 used as evidence long AFTER the investigation and punishments have occurred?

    3) There was no evidence Hargrove recieved a nickel for the alleged bounty . At least 17 other players scored higher on the "hit list", so why so hard on Hargrove?

    4). NFL Senior V.P. of Labor Law and Policy Adolpho Birch admitted that the those investigating the Saints never took the time to define the terms used such as Kill the Head or Whacks because it was a DISSERVICE to the investigation. Is THAT not what the investigation was about, the process behind Kill the Head and what it entailed? How can you define a phrase without using the definition?

  8. My wife used to work for the league in New York, and knew Roger back before he was the commish. Roger Goodell is a certified ego-maniac who believes he and he alone can decide how the world should be, and woe be to those that disagree with him.


  9. Jay Figard, will you repost your comment? I don't know where it went. That's good information that I missed that would be nice for readers to see.

    Also, thanks Kevin for including that information I overlooked.

  10. Never mind, now it's published. The blog is dragging ass today.

  11. Sure Kevin!

    As I said, I was working with others on a Saints message board to compile this same kind of list. Thank you for saving me the hard work. Nicely done!

    However, I would add the following points that we have also questioned:

    1) There was no evidence Hargrove recieved a nickel for the alleged bounty . At least 17 other players scored higher on the "hit list", so why so hard on Hargrove?

    2) Of the 50000 pages of evidence the NFL claims they have, 200 or so pages were turned over this past week. Of that 200 pages, 90% pertained to re-hydration, cleaning up dinner trays, and the likes. How much of the 50000 pages that Goodell has told the media he has as evidence is really evidence and not just filler like those shown?

    3) Why was an article dated Jun6,2012 allowed to be used as evidence among those 200 pages. Was the investigation and punishment not already done? How can you introduce that article as part of the evidence for the punishment?

    4)NFL senior V.P. of Labor Law and Policy Adolpho Birch admits they did not bother to define the terminology used by the Saints ( kill the head, cart off, etc. ). Was that not the whole transgression in the NFL's eyes and to how they determined the Saints were targeting players and intentionally trying to injure? If the whole case is centered around the actions and terms used by the Saints, shouldn't you have a definition of said terms?

    5). And lastly, one has to wonder this: With such a black eye as this is leaving on the NFL with evidence being called into question, why wouldn;t they just turn over the 50000 pages, stand behind it and let the media dissect it along with the fans and see what is what? Why piece meal it out? Regardless if they HAVE to disclose it or not, wouldn't it be in the best interest for the NFL to do just so? IF their evidence is so strong as to warrant year long suspensions, ending of careers, fines and tarnishing a franchise name and accomplishments, wouldn't it warrant full disclosure?

  12. The only evidence for injury opponents I can find is the handwritten note, which shows players that put money in for "QB Out."

    1. However, keep in mind that note was also transcribed from the original, the original not submitted with the evidence, and no one knows where it came from, who transcribed it or what was added to it or left off. There are also at least two times were it states parts that were not transcribed because it was illegible. AND further more, why was Vilma and others punished off of THIS key piece and Vitt not? The NFL stated they never claimed Vitt put money up nor punished him for it yesterday. Why would they not if he is listed there as a contributor? Why single out some and not all?

  13. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you, Thank you for posting this!!! If ALL NFL fans don't start asking questions about this, this despot is going to continue to run riot through our favorite sport, completely unchecked.

  14. Hey man, I hope you don't mind, but I posted this on Florio's Vitt article. I tried to just post this link, but it kept getting erased so I just copied and pasted the whole thing. It's time WE forced the media to hold the NFL's feet in the fire over this. Thanks for the break down.

  15. Please don't take this the wrong way - I'm happily married almost 19 years now but...I freakin' love you, man.

    I have been following these stories closely, and for some reason I tend to torture myself by reading WAAAAY to many of the idiotic, incorrect, assinine comments of the trolls that comment on those stories and quite frankly - it was really bringing me down.

    Reading this has been such an affirmation of what I always believed from day one of this god awful mess. "Pay for performance", while still a rules violation, is in no way synonymous with "pay to injure" and should NEVER have been misconstrued as such, let alone punished as such.

    I'm grateful for blogs like this, Angry Who Dat, Moosedenied, WhoDat Social club and others who can so thoroughly and intelligently present the case for a great group of guys and a dedicated fandom that did not deserve this incredible disservice. ~ vjdancer93

  16. Thanks for your kind words. And I agree with you about the excellence of the other Saints' blogs. They are all fantastic.

  17. I could not be prouder, Pop. Keep up the excellent reporting.

  18. Your flaws are flawed by not giving the accused the ability to lie.

    1. Sure, every person has the "ability" to lie. But "ability" is irrelevant right now because we don't know the facts, so it's impossible to align the facts and compare them with the players' statements/positions.

      Simply, the only way we can know if the players are lying is if we know what the factual documentation behind their punishments actually is. And we don't. So it's illogical to put the cart before the horse in that case.

      Until then, all we have to rely upon are the numerous discrepancies between the NFL's publicly (mis)characterized claims and the vetted truths behind those characterizations.

    2. Somebody just got suuuurvd.

  19. I read all this on a message board before. Did you lift this info from sr.com?

  20. haha Jonesy, you bastard :-D Please nobody attack him. He's just needling me.

  21. Is SharonT here to enforce policy?



    Roger Goodell is going to wind up with egg.




    Who else would like egg on their face?

  22. This was an excellent article that covered so many things

  23. Great article bud. Any chance of you commenting on the Brees saga in one of your next few posts? Take it easy. DJC