Former Saints defensive lineman Anthony Hargove describes in a sworn statement how he was told by ex-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and current New Orleans assistant head coach Joe Vitt to deny the existence of a bounty program to NFL investigators.
In a document obtained Monday by The Associated Press, Hargrove acknowledges that he acted on Williams' and Vitt's instructions to "play dumb" if asked whether he was aware of bounties being placed on former Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre or any other player.
The declaration does not go into specifics, however, about just what Hargrove knew or did not know about the bounty program in New Orleans, and for that reason it has become a point of contention between the NFL and the NFL Players Association.
From the union's perspective, Hargrove's statement does not say that he lied to anyone, nor does it state that he or any other Saints participated in a bounty program that offered cash bonuses for hits that injured targeted opponents.
The NFL, by contrast, has said that Hargrove's words acknowledge the existence of a bounty program and show that Hargrove initially lied to NFL investigators about it.
In describing Hargrove's declaration last week, Mary Jo White, a former U.S. attorney hired by the NFL to review its investigation, said the player, "acknowledges the nature of the program and his participation in it, and, which is really the thrust of the declaration, that he was told to lie about it, and he did when he was asked about it in 2010 by the NFL investigators."
Hargrove, currently with Green Bay, was one of four players who received suspensions of various lengths in connection with the bounty probe. Hargrove was suspended eight games, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire season, Saints defensive end Will Smith for four games and Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita for three games.
Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg called the NFL's characterization of Hargrove's statement "misleading."
"All we know from the declaration is that a couple of coaches were in trouble and hoped for support from him," Ginsberg said. "Anthony's declaration in no way supports that he lied, that a bounty system existed or that players participated in any kind of inappropriate program. It's a shame that the NFL needed to have mischaracterized that declaration in order to justify these punishments. It's just another reason to conclude that the NFL has no evidence to justify what it has done to the players."
The NFL has said the Saints' bounty program was run by Williams from 2009 through 2011. Williams has been suspended indefinitely by the league and has apologized for his actions.
All four players are appealing. The NFLPA also has filed grievances with the NFL, arguing that Commissioner Roger Goodell lacked the authority to punish players for off-the-field matters that predated last August's new collective bargaining agreement, and that Goodell should not hear the appeals of the players' suspensions in the bounty matter.
No other players are mentioned in Hargrove's sworn statement, which also does not contain any description of payments being pledged, made, or received.
In his declaration, first published Monday by Yahoo Sports, Hargrove describes how he was called into a late February 2010 meeting with Williams and Vitt. The coaches said they had heard Hargrove might have told Minnesota Vikings player Jimmy Kennedy — a friend and former teammate in St. Louis — that there had been a bounty on Favre in the NFL title game near the end of the 2009 season.
The statement then describes Williams saying, in obscenity-laced terms, that league officials, "have been trying to get me for years," and "if we all stay on the same page, this will blow over."
It also describes Vitt reminding Hargrove that he brought him into the league with St. Louis and later brought him to the Saints — a second chance Hargrove had sought in the NFL after being suspended for drug abuse.
Hargrove's statement says that in March 2010 he met with NFL investigators, who asked him a range of questions about a bounty program in New Orleans, and that he denied knowledge of any of it, in line with the "clear directions" he had received from Williams and Vitt.