New York, NY – On the same day a lawyer for Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma called the bounty appeal hearing for his client and three other players a sham, the NFL presented reporters with previously unseen evidence it has collected in the case.
Among the revelations Monday were details of the alleged bounty program kept on a computer system provided by Saints owner Tom Benson, as well as a $35,000 bounty against then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the NFC Championship Game in 2010, the same year the Saints won the Super Bowl.
The NFL showed the evidence to reporters from several media outlets, including CBSSports.com and Sports Illustrated.
According to CBS, one slide from the Saints computer system read: "Now it's time to do our job, collect bounty money, no apologies, let's go hunting." It was accompanied by a photo of Duane Chapman, known better as the star of the reality TV show "Dog the Bounty Hunter."
The NFL revealed that much of its evidence in the bounty investigation came from Saints assistant coach Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Williams, according to the CBS account, told investigators at one point that he was "rolling the dice with player safety and someone could have been maimed."
Vitt, who is currently handling the day-to-day coaching duties while Sean Payton serves his one-game suspension, will serve his own six-game ban at the start of the regular season. Williams, hired as defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams, has been suspended indefinitely.
Earlier, Vilma left the bounty appeal hearing with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and didn't return for an afternoon session, saying he was discouraged by the process that will likely keep him suspended for the entire 2012 season.
"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 just 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," said Vilma, who filed a defamation suit 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."
"If [Goodell] chooses to ignore the evidence, then we just have to proceed as best we can to reclaim Jonathan's reputation," the attorney said.
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.
Prior to Monday's hearing, the NFL Players Association released a statement from the other three players 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 said.
"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.