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League backs off view that Hargrove said “give me my money”

Anthony Hargrove

Green Bay Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove speaks to the media outside the National Football League headquarters, Tuesday, June 19, 2012, in New York. The former New Orleans Saints player had been suspended for half of next season for his alleged involvement in a bounty program among Saints players that rewarded cash for big hits on opposing players. Hargrove maintains his innocence. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

AP

In the end, it apparently didn’t matter who said “give me my money” in the notorious 2009 NFC title game sideline video.

The eight-page, single-spaced letter sent Tuesday by Commissioner Roger Goodell to the four players suspended for involvement in the Saints alleged bounty scandal indicates that Goodell made his decision without accepting as true and accurate the league’s insistence that Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove uttered the four key words at issue. (The letter, which the league didn’t release publicly on Tuesday, was attached as an exhibit to Goodell’s motion to dismiss Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation lawsuit.)

“For purposes of addressing Mr. Hargrove’s appeal,” Goodell writes, “I need not resolve the issue of who made the statement. Instead, I am prepared to assume -- as he apparently stated publicly -- that he did not make it. But that statement is relevant because, regardless of which player said it, it corroborates other evidence that there was an incentive in place for knocking Mr. Favre out of the game and that the members of the Saints defense, including Mr. Hargrove, were well aware of that fact. The identity of the player who made the statement was immaterial to my decision on your appears and did not affect the level of discipline imposed on Mr. Hargrove.”

It’s a well-crafted paragraph, which explains in logical, commonsensical fashion the potential import of the words plainly audible on the video on question. Unless someone off camera was demanding change from a hot-dog vendor adept at sleight of hand, the comments suggest the existence of a bounty on Brett Favre.

Still, Goodell’s abandonment of an allegation on which the league office previously was strident invites questions regarding the overall quality of the investigation. If, put simply, Goodell isn’t willing to stand firmly behind a conclusion about which former prosecutor Mary Jo White, who presented the league’s case at the appeal hearing, was adamant, what other flaws may be lurking in the evidence that wasn’t disclosed?

I’ll have more information and analysis of other topics raised in the letter upholding the suspensions as the evening unfolds, including the evidence that wasn’t disclosed and the players’ strategic decision to introduce no evidence at all. Though these topics may put some of you to sleep, an effort to hit all of them in one blurb definitely would.