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NFLPA seeks exculpatory evidence in advance of bounty hearings

Scott Fujita

Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita stretches before practice at the NFL football team’s headquarters in Berea, Ohio Tuesday, June 5, 2012. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)


In My Cousin Vinny, Joe Pesci (a/k/a Vinny) eventually realizes that, in order to get a look at the prosecution’s files in the case against two youths who allegedly killed a store clerk in Alabama, all Vinny has to do is ask.

If only it were that easy in the NFLPA’s effort to defend the players who are accused of participating in the Saints’ bounty system.

Jim Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports that the union has asked the NFL to disclose in advance of Monday’s appeal hearings any evidence that points to the players’ innocence. But the labor deal requires only that the league produce by Friday -- three days before the hearing -- any evidence that the league plans to use in support of its contention that the players are guilty.

The difference is significant. With no obligation to produce so-called “exculpatory” evidence, the league could (in theory) conceal evidence that would suggest that the players didn’t do it, introducing (and thus disclosing) only the evidence that points to guilt.

While there’s no reason to believe the league is hiding exculpatory evidence, the point is that the rules allow the league to do so. (Which, of course, raises a separate question: Why don’t the rules require all evidence to be produced?)

Per Varney, the NFL’s evidence against former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, who now plays for the Browns, consists only of proof that he contributed “a significant amount of money” to the general fund from which, according to the league, a variety of payments were made -- including alleged payments for hits that inflicted injuries on opponents. General allegations of contributions to the overall pool also have been made against former Saints defensive end Anthony Hargrove, who now plays for the Packers. For both players, there apparently is no evidence that they made payments or offered payments specifically for injuries.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and Saints defensive end Will Smith are accused of helping to establish and fund the pool, and that Smith contributed significant amounts during the 2009 playoffs. The league specifically contends that Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked former Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 playoffs.

On Friday, the NFLPA and the individual players will know more about the evidence that the NFL plans to use on Monday. Hopefully, someone will see fit to ensure that the evidence makes its way into the hands of the media.

And before anyone claims that it’s none of the media’s business, the NFL has on multiple occasions made it the media’s business, using the media as the tool for communicating to the fans information that the league wanted to be disseminated. The time has come for the media, and thus the fans, to know the full story.

Whatever it may be.