New York, NY – Suspended New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma left Monday's bounty appeal hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and won't return for an afternoon session.
Vilma was discouraged by the process that will likely keep him suspended for the entire 2012 season in the wake of his alleged role in the Saints' bounty system.
"It's unfortunate that this process has been the way it is," Vilma said Monday after leaving the NFL's offices. "I don't know how you get a fair process when you have a judge, jury and executioner [Goodell]. He's made a ruling and is going to stick by that ruling. Whatever happens from there happens. It's hard to go into a process or situation assuming that it's fair."
Vilma was one of four players suspended, but was hit hardest by Goodell. As a captain of the Saints' defensive unit, Vilma is said to have helped establish and fund the bounty program. He was said to have offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of a 2009 divisional playoff game.
"It's tough to swallow, knowing that from here on out, I'll be forever linked to a bountygate that's simply not true," Vilma added Monday.
Vilma filed a defamation lawsuit against Goodell last month.
Peter Ginsberg, Vilma's lawyer, called Monday's hearing a "sham" and said Goodell has withheld evidence from the "supposed investigation."
Added Ginsberg: "If [Goodell] chooses to ignore the evidence, then we just have to proceed as best we can to reclaim Jonathan's reputation."
In addition to Vilma, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with Green Bay, was suspended eight games, defensive end Will Smith was hit with a four-game ban and linebacker Scott Fujita, now playing for Cleveland, will sit for the first three games of the 2012 campaign.
All three were in New York for Monday's hearing and, prior to the meeting, the NFL Players Association released a statement from the trio that virtually echoed Vilma's public sentiments.
"We have purportedly been disciplined by the commissioner for alleged activities that the National Football League has grossly misrepresented to the public," the statement began.
"We are in attendance today not because we recognize the commissioner's jurisdiction to adjudicate regarding these specious allegations, but because we believe the league would attempt to publicly mischaracterize our refusal to attend. We will not address the substance of the NFL's case because this is not the proper venue for adjudication, and there has been no semblance of due process afforded to us.
"As veteran players of 11, 9 and 9 years in this league, we are profoundly disappointed with the NFL's conduct in this matter. We know what the NFL has publicly said we did, and the commissioner has chosen to try to punish us and disparage our characters based on semantics, not facts. Words are cheap and power is fleeting.
"Shame on the National Football League and commissioner Goodell for being more concerned about 'convicting' us publicly than being honorable and fair to men who have dedicated their professional lives to playing this game with honor."
A pair of grievances filed by the NFLPA on behalf of the players were denied by arbitrators in recent weeks.