NFC North: Richard Smith

At any moment, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell's ruling on the appeal of Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove and three other players in the New Orleans Saints bounty investigation. While we wait, I wanted to bring to your attention an important revelation that further calls into question what the NFL has claimed as evidence against Hargrove, thus meriting an eight-game suspension.

Last week, NFLPA outside counsel Richard Smith revealed to the New York Times that a voice recognition analyst concluded that Hargrove's voice was not the one recorded saying "Bobby, give me my money" in an NFL Films video used as evidence that Hargrove knew about and participated in the bounty program.

Here's the relevant portion of the Times article:
"Smith hired a voice recognition expert to review and analyze the sentence. Smith said the expert had concluded that the harmonics of Hargrove’s voice did not match the voice on the tape, that Hargrove’s lips had not been visible and that the first word was not "Bobby" but instead the result of a player and coach talking at once.

"No one can say beyond doubt that it’s Anthony Hargrove speaking," Smith said.

We've been through this issue on several occasions, and Hargrove himself stated last month: "It is not my voice. Anyone who knows me well knows that it is not me."

As we've discussed, there would be no credible reason for Hargrove to ask Saints defensive end Bobby McCray to pay him money for a hit he was not involved in. When you watch the video -- link here with an arrow added for emphasis -- Hargrove's lips are obscured and can't be seen when the words are audible. At the same time, you see defensive tackle Remi Ayodele -- who was involved in the hit against Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre -- turning to teammate Will Smith. (Ayodele's agent told NFL.com that he "doesn't recall hearing that statement.")

We've acknowledged that the NFL mischaracterized Hargrove's official declaration, suggesting he confirmed his knowledge and participation when in fact he acknowledged only that Saints coaches requested he "play dumb" when asked about the bounty by NFL investigators.

Meanwhile, a former Saints practice squad player, who was standing near Hargrove at that moment on the sideline, told CBSSports.com that Hargrove wasn't the one speaking in the video.

I realize the NFL's discipline program does not require the same standards for evidence as a court of law might. But again, it's worth asking whether anything the NFL has cited against Hargrove has credible merit.

We'll keep you posted.
John of Belleville, Ill., is tired of a common refrain from players suspended as part of the New Orleans Saints bounty case. In particular, the "judge, jury and executioner" theory that suggests NFL commissioner Roger Goodell shouldn't both determine the discipline and also hear/decide on the appeal:
If the players didn't want [commissioner] Roger Goodell to have all the power he has, they shouldn't have bargained it away in the CBA. They have no leg to stand on. This is not a legal proceeding, it is a legal structure based on the CBA -- no courts.

Technically, John, you're right. The NFL Players Association agreed to this general arrangement as part of the collective bargaining agreement it signed last summer. But I think what you've seen over the past few days is the beginning of an NFLPA campaign to suggest Goodell didn't follow the spirit of the CBA in handing this issue.

Consider this statement released Monday by attorney Richard Smith, an outside counsel to the NFLPA: "In this matter, the conduct of the Commissioner and his representatives has undermined the fundamental process contemplated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Through this abuse, these players have been denied any semblance of due process and fairness. At a time when some question the safety and integrity of the game, the failure by those charged to act responsibly and fairly have challenged our collective faith and confidence in the league."

I wouldn't be surprised if that statement is a central component of legal action the players might take against the league, one that might be the Green Bay Packers' best chance of getting defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove on the field for more than eight games this season.

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