The strange saga of the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal took another odd and confusing turn on Thursday night. Filmmaker Sean Pamphilon, who gave the matter a more visceral feel when he released audio of Gregg Williams' violent exhortations to his players prior to a January playoff game against the 49ers, posted a lengthy chronicle on his website discussing the decision to release the audio of Williams' rant.
Pamphilon goes through the process in chronological order, revealing the ongoing involvement of former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, one of four players to receive a suspension for his role in the bounty program, in making the tape public.
Even though he was no longer a member of the Saints, Fujita was present for Williams' speech, along with former Saints player and ALS suffer Steve Gleason, the subject of Pamphilon's documentary. The filmmaker and Fujita began a dialogue over whether or not to release the audio in the days after the bounty scandal became known. They eventually released the tape almost a month later.
Pamphilon's piece tells reveals a prominent role for Fujita in arranging the release of the audio tape. In mid March, Fujita made a statement in a series of text messages between Pamphilon and Steve Gleason, trying to broker a deal to release the tapes, putting the issue beyond the context of bounties.
"an indictment on the culture of football, a big part of which is still archaic & has yet to evolve."
The post portrays Gleason torn on the matter, divided by a sense of loyalty to the team that continued to count him as one of their own through his struggle with terminal illness. After a March 18 conversation with Gleason, Pamphilon tabled the matter, but he did note that Gleason, at that time, wanted permission from the Saints as well as quarterback Drew Brees.
From there, the NFLPA received a copy of the audio from Pamphilon via arrangement with Fujita, a member of their executive committee. Pamphilon says the whole issue was tabled until April 2, when Fujita asked about plans to release the tape.
The league's evidence on the specifics of players involved in the bounty scandal has been at heart of the conflict between the NFL and the NFLPA. Players and the union want to see the evidence implicating them. The leagues says no because it would threaten individuals who provided that evidence. The union has filed a pair of grievances along those lines, and Jonathan Vilma has gone so far as to file a defamation suit against Roger Goodell, a mano a mano lawsuit outside the works of the league and the union.
The issue of evidence played a key role in the decision to release the audio of Williams.
Said Fujita in an April 2 text message to Pamphilon:
"I'm convinced the league doesn't really have shit on anybody."
The linebacker called Pamphilon the next day, which is when the decision to release the audio was made.
Scott calls me in the late morning and tells me that NFLPA lawyer, Heather McPhee had asked him if his "filmmaker friend" was still interested in releasing the audio. They weren't going to tell me to do it, but If I were still considering this, I might want to do it "the sooner the better."
Not even for a second did I pause and consider the NFLPA's motive for this particular timing. And to this day I cannot say with a certainty.
The idea behind releasing the audio tape was to shift blame in the bounty program onto Williams and the coaches. The NFLPA confirmed that to Deadspin. At this point, Pamphilon claims, Drew Brees was involved in the matter, supporting the decision to release the audio.
The story was finally going to come out and I was going to have this burden off my plate. Scott assures me that Drew Brees is fully on board with releasing the audio. The game plan was Drew would be talking to Steve and Michel to let them know their interests are protected and he supports the move because it will help his Saints teammates. The theory was that the audio would pin everything on their former defensive coach and mitigate the player penalties.
Just before 4pm-with Mike [Yahoo's Michael Silver] already a few hours into writing the story-Scott texts me, "I'm kind of actually excited about all this. Have no idea what's going to come of it, but at least I like that my boys (you and Silver) will be famous."
"That's the part that scares the fuck out of me," I text back.
With Silver working on the story, Brees pushed back on the release of the audio. Fujita then steps up the intermediary role, telling Pamphilon that the quarterback "hypersensitive" and that it "will be fine."
Along with Mike Silver's story, Pamphilon also released an essay on the matter titled "Tru Dat." Brees wanted to read the essay, along with Steve Gleason, before it was released. Pamphilon refused, fearing that Brees would send it to his agent and the NFLPA.
He offered to read the essay to them over the phone on the condition that Fujita join them on the call. Fujita declined, and it all but ended his contact with Pamphilon. The filmmaker expressed his sense of betrayal at Fujita's actions in the May 31 post.
I am completely STUNNED. The day before Fujita had asked me if I was afraid of losing access to subjects by going public with this material. I told him I felt my work transcended sports and if I didn't have access to team facilities, I could care less because none of my best work was done there.
My real fear, I told Scott was going doing something of this magnitude and be stranded without teammates. And when he refused to get on the phone, I realized I was now engulfed in my own self-fulfilling prophecy.
In the days after the audio's release. Steve Gleason pushed back, saying that Pamphilon had no basis for releasing the material. The filmmaker says he felt as though had been pitted against two beloved sports figures in Brees and Gleason.
At that point, Pamphilon and Fujita talk again, but the conversation is different. Fujita tells the filmmaker of talking to Brees and Gleason and being "apologetic toward them" over the tape's release.
In a response to Deadspin, Fujita expressed his own sense of betrayal at Pamphilon's actions:
"[Fujita] shared very private and personal feelings with someone I believed was a friend. I am disappointed he chose to share those private thoughts publicly. I believe he is a talented filmmaker and wish him well."
In terms of the nuts and bolts of the bounty case itself, Pamphilon's essay adds nothing. It is the outpouring of a man who clearly feels wronged by those he once considered confidants, including Fujita whose behind the scenes criticism of the game stand in stark contrast to his public statements.
The debate around whether or not the NFL has an obligation to release its evidence in the bounty scandal will only get louder and louder as official grievances proceed along with a defamation lawsuit. Regardless of whether or not releasing the bounty evidence is the right thing to do, Pamphilon's essay is a preview of the treacherousness and finger-pointing that will result if the league releasing the evidence it claims to have proving the existence of the bounty program.