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Failure to participate in appeal process could come back to haunt players

Chicago Bears v Tampa Bay Buccaneers

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell looks on prior to the NFL International Series match between Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium on October 23, 2011 in London, England. This is the fifth occasion where a regular season NFL match has been played in London. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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[Editor’s note: The eight-page, single-spaced letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell affirming the suspensions of the four players accused of involvement in the Saints’ bounty program raises several intriguing points, arguments, and circumstances. We’re breaking them up into separate posts in order to ensure that no one throw a shoe at their monitors.]

The players suspended for involvement in the alleged Saints bounty program decided not to participate in the appeal process, and now the NFL will try to make them sorely regret that decision.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita opted to attend but not to participate in the June 18 hearing. They didn’t testify, they didn’t introduce exhibits, and they didn’t provide any substantive proof or evidence or information that points to their professed innocence.

Commissioner Roger Goodell’s eight-page, single-spaced letter upholding the suspensions seizes on the failure to mount a defense. “Throughout the entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions,” Goodell writes. “Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process.”

Goodell also points out that the players’ lawyers chose “not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested).”

The decision not to pepper Jeff Miller and Joe Hummel with questions represents a lost opportunity to emphasize the perceived unfairness of the process. A skillful interrogator could have grilled Miller and Hummel on a wide range of issues, including every flaw in the evidence submitted by the league in support of the suspensions, some of the other evidence that didn’t make its way into the packet of 16 exhibits, and every other relevant aspect of the investigation, including the identity of the unnamed witnesses, the specific information harvested from key witnesses not present at the hearing (like former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams), and the reasons for Hummel’s decision to resign during the investigation.

If Miller and/or Hummel had opted to refuse to answer certain questions (and if Goodell had allowed them to do so), the players possibly would have emerged with a more persuasive basis for arguing that the league’s process wasn’t truly impartial or fair.

Instead, the NFL now has a strong piece of evidence to which it will repeatedly point when accused in court of not being fair to the players. The league will argue, at every turn, that the players didn’t give Goodell a fair chance to be fair.