Why is the NFL so doggedly pursuing punishments for the players, coaches and others involved in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal? Former Saints player Anthony Hargrove, one of four players suspended for playing a role in the pay-for-performance system, says the league's pursuit centers on "image, power and money."
Hargrove released a statement to the media on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the start of the appeal hearing for himself, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma, denying the accusations against him. Using analogies ranging from former President Bill Clinton to the Mona Lisa's smile, Hargrove also refuted the league's claim that its evidence implicates him in the Saints' bounty program.
The former Saints defensive end devoted several paragraphs of his statement to explaining that that it was his voice heard demanding payment for a hit on Brett Favre in the January 2012 NFC championship game in a video shown to players and reporters on Monday.
Hargrove's denial is the latest in the back-and-forth over punishments handed out in the bounty program. Mike Ornstein denied the league's evidence that named him as a source in corroborating Vilma's $10,000 offer to take Favre out of the game. Joe Vitt also denied the league's assertion that he admitted to contributing money to a bounty pool.
At its core, this is a debate about how league handling player discipline through a centralized approach with all power in the commissioner's hands, a premise included in the 2011 collective bargaining agreement agreed to by players and the league. What this is not is an endpoint, or even a milestone indicating that a resolution is near.
The full text of Hargrove's statement, which was first obtained by Jason LaCanfora of CBSSports.com, is below:
I have sat back over the past few months and watched as the NFL has spent countless hours painting a picture that has left a lot of people convinced that myself and three other players deserve to be punished, not to mention the coaching staff and Mr. Loomis. I have asked myself a million times: why? Why on earth are they trying to make a mountain out of a molehill? I do not have an absolute answer, but I'm guessing it has something to do with image, power, and money.
The words they have used over the months to capture your hearts and minds have been many, practiced, and calculated. But that does not make them true. It just makes them good at what they do. They are, in my opinion, master politicians. Bill Clinton once said, "I did not have sex with that woman."
Semantics. Politicians are good at it.
There is no way I can reveal to you today the depth of their imagination and determination in painting this picture for you, the public, adroitly using the media as their tools of art. But I will dabble a little. And stay with me, because even though they have somberly made it clear that "The Mona Lisa" is not smiling, if we move in closer we notice that ... just maybe she is.
First of all, I watched in shock as they took my declaration a couple of months ago and made it into something it was not. It left from me as a private explanation of certain specific events and, voila, came out as a confession of crimes. Even I had to blink my eyes real hard to see how they did that one. Do you know they never even asked me what I meant? Just assumed I wanted to confess, I guess.
Or in this case, maybe just lies. They publicly said that I said things that I did not say. Is that not lying? Isn't it? Go back and read for yourselves without assuming that it says what they have made you think, and then re-read their synopsis. Please try to have an open mind.
They also said that I declined to be interviewed a few weeks back. Again, untrue. I know it sounds dubious to the public when they hear that I declined to visit with Mr. Goodell, and that was their intent, I'm guessing. But they were the first to decline. After that, I, too, became dubious.
Yesterday I heard that they have a witness who saw me tell Joe Vitt that I lied? Who is this mystery witness? You may come forward. I won't bite. The truth is that I feel certain I know who this supposed witness is, and if you knew you would understand why this is all so shady. The problem is, since I am only 99 percent sure who this supposed witness is, I will keep it to myself, because that is what honesty and integrity demand ... absolute certainty. And even then, why intentionally drag that person's name through the mud, as the NFL has done mine?
But it did not happen as they say!
They say, and I quote, "the circumstances strongly suggest that you told at least one player on another club about the program, and confirmed that Brett Favre was the target of a bounty." I did no such thing. Do I think someone told them I did? Probably. And I believe it was probably the same mystery witness. But it ... did ... not ... happen! There is no way they have absolute proof, because it does not exist. I would stake my career on it.
I have felt like the target of a sophisticated mugging, watching as many have walked by and minded their own business as if the muggers deserved their prize. Why have most walked by? Because they were not the ones being mugged, or maybe because they felt that they had no vested interest. True, some halve yelped out that maybe someone should help, but even most of them keep on walking by.
I call out to my fellow NFL brothers around the NFL to not buy in. Look closer. You have not been given the full truth. There has been a tactful attempt to cause division among us, but we must not let it work! We should seek the truth out with diligence and band together if at all possible. Trust me, it could be you next time being mugged.
And that brings me to the final issue for the day. And for this we must literally lean in and look and listen very closely. Part of the NFL's evidence so prominently and proudly displayed yesterday included a DVD with interesting excerpts from the NFC Championship Game in January of 2010. They showed it to the players and then to "The Twelve". It showed certain highlights from the game and a little sideline discussion, among other things. The Twelve, from what I heard, came away very convinced that the NFL had put on ... what did they call it ... oh yeah, an explosive and compelling show of evidence.
As I watched the DVD, I did not think so. In fact, I felt similar to how I had felt when I read the NFL's statement about my declaration. Bewildered. I looked around the room wondering if anyone else caught what the NFL had done. It seemed no one did. They are very, very good.
To replay it for you, they first showed me hitting Favre in the 2nd quarter, up high. Some debated whether it was a legal hit or not. I was flagged and later fined. It happens. Sorry Brett. Then in the 4th quarter Favre was hurt by a high/low hit by a couple of my teammates. And he left the game temporarily with an ankle issue, it seemed. And stunningly, that happens in NFL games, too.
But this is where it gets interesting. The NFL has a sideline shot of our defense gathered around Joe Vitt discussing what we might should expect if the backup quarterback comes into the game. It shows me off to the side with some of our other defensive linemen on the bench with their backs to the camera. The final snippet has an arrow pointed at me with the caption indicating that I had said, "give me my money."
Here's the problem with that. It wasn't me. That's right. The NFL got their evidence all wrong. In their rush to convict me, they made a very serious error. Is it intentional? I don't know. But one thing I do know with absolute certainty ... it ... was ... not ... me! Like I said, lean in closer, look closer, listen closer. It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me. But the NFL does not know me well. They simply make assumptions. With ... my ... life.
Any coach evaluating film would have thought that #69 played a very exciting, great football game, the way it is supposed to be played. And yet the NFL has cut it up and made me out to be a monster.
They duped "The Twelve" and many others. For example, I have seen the NFL Network broadcast that it was me as if it were fact. But again, it is absolutely not. It will be easily provable. In fact, there is no way they can prove that it is me. I stake my life on the fact that it is not me. I wonder if Roger Goodell is willing to stake his job on this piece of evidence? Or Jeff Pash? Or Adolpho Birch? Or Mary Jo White? Or anyone else associated with this mockery? In fact, since we are here, does anyone want to go up and ask them? And how about you guys? Are any of you willing to put your job on the line and say that this piece of evidence is accurate? By a show of hands, please?
The truth is, this has been embarrassing to have all these lies about me echoing across America. Good Lord have my eyes been opened! Just ask yourself ... if they will manufacture this piece of so-called evidence, what else will they do? I know it looks confusing, especially when they tell you what to look for, but don't believe it. This, in my mind, brings everything into question. Everything. And all of this because one man has absolute power and seemingly must use it. We as players have to be very careful. Do they care about us? When they are willing to twist things to hurt us? Come on guys.
As for most of the media, I would hope you would not believe every accusation you hear in the future. Dig deeper before you come up with your story headlines and opinions. You might be interested in what you find. You might even find that "The Mona Lisa" is actually smiling.