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.
Initially, the NFL presented Anthony Hargrove's "declaration" as proof that a bounty system existed. Specifically, the NFL's hired gun, Mary Jo White, said 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."
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.
>5) FLAWS: 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:
Ex. 10: Transcription of notes from Vikings game -- "$$ -- QB out. QB out pool. $10K Vilma. $10K Grant. $10K Ornstein. Vitt $5K."
— Jeff Duncan (@JeffDuncanTP) June 18, 2012
> 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.