NFL players appeal punishments for Saints’ alleged bounty scandal

Even as they decried the NFL’s process as unfair and “a sham,” the four players suspended for their role in the New Orleans Saints’ alleged bounty scandal appealed their punishments Monday to Commissioner Roger Goodell at league headquarters in New York.

Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, whose season-long suspension was the harshest penalty, left the appeals hearing after an hour. Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, said the NFL had requested an adjournment to the afternoon, but the lawyer and his client opted to leave, pulling out of the process entirely.

“Roger Goodell has taken three months to tear down what I built over eight years,” Vilma said. “It’s tough to swallow. I have been linked to a bounty and it simply is not true.

“I don’t know how I can get a fair process when he is the judge, jury and executioner. You’re assuming it will be fair, but it’s not.”

The other suspended players are defensive ends Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith, out for eight and four games, respectively, and linebacker Scott Fujita, out for three. Hargrove now plays for Green Bay and Fujita for Cleveland.

All claim the league has not provided any evidence linking them to the accusations that they participated in a program that rewarded Saints players for injuring opponents.

“The NFL’s investigation has been highlighted by sensationalized headlines and unsubstantiated leaks to the media,” Fujita said. “I have yet to see anything that implicates me — not in the last three months, and not today.”

Later Monday, however, the league provided a small group of reporters with the same presentation of evidence provided to the players.

According to Jim Varney of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, the league cited a compelling piece of evidence it said came from the Saints’ computer records and referred to a 2011 playoff game at Seattle.

It was a graphic that included photos of Seahawks players, including quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, framed by a sniper’s lens. In the bottom right was a photo of television’s “Dog the Bounty Hunter,” with instructions circled in red: “Now it’s time to do our job...collect bounty $$$!” and, “No apologies! Let’s go hunting!”