Ginsberg chastises Goodell for distortion of evidence, demands reversal of suspension
The Commissioner of the National Football League rarely gets talked to in the way he got talked to today.
On Monday Goodell got an earful from lawyer Peter Ginsberg in the initial session of the bounty hearings.
As set forth below, Ginsberg accused Goodell of failing to conduct a fair process and distorting facts, calling the proceedings “shocking and shameful.” Multiple sources tell PFT that Ginsberg’s remarks were “heated,” and one source present at the session perceived that Goodell’s face turned red during Ginsberg’s rant.
Ginsberg also claimed that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Michael Cerullo have since retracted any claim that the players actually were engaged in a bounty program. That’s an allegation that hasn’t previously been made and, if true, would be extremely significant.
Ginsberg concluded by demanding that Goodell rescind the punishment of Ginsberg’s client, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, and apologize publicly.
Though it wasn’t quite an Animal House-style march out, Vilma and Ginsberg left the hearings after the initial session, and they did not return when the hearing resumed in the afternoon.
PFT has obtained a copy of the uncertified rough draft transcript from the morning session. Ginsberg’s remarks are summarized below or, for those of you reading this in the Rumor Mill, after the jump.
“We have been willing to meet with you for months now,” Ginsberg said to Goodell after addressing alleged jurisdictional issues with the appeal process. “If you, sir, were prepared to exchange fairly and thoroughly in a process in which we could have a discourse and you, Commissioner, could come to a better understanding of what, in fact, occurred with the New Orleans Saints. If you had presented us with a modicum of due process, if you had elicited or evidenced any willingness to share the evidence with us, we were more than prepared to [engage] in a full [dialogue].
“Instead, Commissioner, you have deprived us of the most fundamental rights, you have provided us with no evidence either in a timely fashion or other to support any of the horrific accusation and allegations that you have made about Mr. Vilma. You have been unwilling to [engage] in any fair [dialogue] or any fair exchange. You have made serious allegations an in light of those allegations, in light of what you claim to be important to the NFL and in light of you, sir, your supposed concern for the integrity of this sport and in light of the consequences, Jonathan Vilma both personally and professional, we have as you know found these process[es] and these proceedings to be shocking and shameful.
“From the very beginning, Mr. Vilma asked you to do two things, Commissioner Goodell. One was to investigate as thoroughly [you] could what lay behind your supposed accusation and the other thing Mr. Vilma asked you to do as to listen to him because he was prepared to tell the whole truth about your supposed -- about your accusations.
“We have, in fact, engaged in a thorough investigation. It has been [stymied] in part, sir, because you haven’t issued gag orders to people with evidence, former coaches, people with [the] New Orleans Saints, you had made threats to keep them from talking, you have refused to have them even participate in today’s proceedings, but nonetheless, Commissioner Goodell, we have talked to dozens of people, literally dozens of people regarding your allegations. We have spend months gathering information and we have compared that information to your descriptions, your public descriptions. . . . But in preparing with what you have accused Mr. Vilma with the information that we have gathered, we have found the following, Commissioner Goodell.”
Ginsberg at that point accused Goodell of distorting the facts, pointing to the email message Mike Ornstein sent from prison in September 2011, which supposedly offered a $5,000 bounty on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the Week One game between the Saints and Green Bay. Ginsberg also mentioned Hargrove’s declaration as being “distorted . . . in the media” by the league.
“You have taken words that Gregg Williams used, colorful words like cart-offs and wax and [kill the head] and have chosen publicly to distort the meaning of those words notwithstanding the fact that Mr. Williams and others ha told you that those terms in no way relate to illegal hits or any bounty program that you have decided, sir, to misrepresent what those words, in fact, mean,” Ginsberg said.
Ginsberg also cites “substantial evidence” that Williams and former Saints assistant (and suspected whistleblower) Mike Cerullo “retracted directly and affirmatively and without equivocation any claims they have previously made about a bounty program,” explaining that the league has not disclosed those retractions.
“Your office leaked to the press a couple weeks ago a supposed ledger which theoretically provided evidence of a bounty program,” Ginsberg said. “And when the media analyzed this supposed ledger, it became clear [apparently] even to the NFL office that since no players were identified in that supposed ledger, there was no tying of that ledger to any way to a bounty program. You have chosen after airing it out publicly not even to include that ledger in the documents you provided in an untimely fashion with regard to this proceeding.”
Ginsberg then pushed toward a conclusion of his remarks, apparently hoping to end strong.
“Sir, we have looked at the objective evidence as well as looked at the Gregg Williams video and spoken to people and we have looked at the statistics, we have looked at game film, we have looked at penalties, we have concluded and I think it is irrefutable that there is nothing objective that can support what you have accused Mr. Vilma of having done publicly,” Ginsberg said. “Commissioner Goodell, Jonathan Vilma has never participated in a bounty program. He has never put up any money designed to hurt an opposing player. He has never received any money for hurting another player. He has never intended to hurt another player and he has never in any way provided any incentive for any of his teammates to have hurt another playing.
“Commissioner Goodell, what you have done is to make some horrible accusations about Mr. Vilma’s person, about his integrity and about his professionalism. You have imposed a misplaced punishment and, sir, you have cast a shadow not only on Mr. Vilma personally and professionally, and I dare say under NFL and under the offices of the Commissioner in engaging in these proceedings, there’s just one and just one result in this proceeding and that is for you to rescind any punishment against Mr. Vilma and to apologize in public for what you have done.”
Though it’s unlikely Goodell will comply, it feels inevitable that Vilma and Goodell eventually will be hashing this out before someone who wears a black robe on a regular basis -- and there won’t be much gray between their respective positions.