- Pat Yasinskas, ESPN Tampa Bay Buccaneers reporter
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NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith says the NFL must release to the union all relevant information pertaining to its investigation of the New Orleans Saints' bounty program before making any recommendations or rulings on possible penalties for players.
Smith, in an interview with the sports website Pro Player Insiders, was critical of how the NFL has handled its part of the investigation.
"It's very hard to have a productive discussion about punishment when one side has kept, to itself, all the information," Smith told the website. "What I would expect is to have a conversation soon and certainly it would be our expectation that the request for all information, as it relates to particular players, will be provided before any discipline takes place."
The NFL contacted the union Friday regarding its request to review information in the Saints matter, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.
Commissioner Roger Goodell's invitation from several weeks ago was renewed for NFLPA representatives to meet at the league office about the investigation at any time. The NFL security staff would be made available as early as possible next week, the union was told, to discuss the interviews they conducted and other aspects of the investigation.
"It's up to them if they want to come in," a league official told ESPN.com. "That still stands."
The union also was reminded Friday that Goodell has asked on numerous occasions for the union's position and any recommendations on disciplinary action, the source told Schefter. Despite the commissioner's requests, the NFL office has not heard from the union in that regard, according to the source. The union again was asked to offer any thoughts or recommendations it has as soon as possible.
"It's a very, at least from our perspective, a very unfair situation where you have a number of allegations floating back and forth in the press," Smith told the site. "There certainly appears to be some information that's been provided to the media about certain individuals' involvement and references to everything from emails to Powerpoints. It's difficult for those players to be in a situation where they can hardly defend themselves from unsubstantiated accusations that are being made in the public.
"If there is direct evidence of a 'pay-to-injure' scheme implicating players or anybody involved, we are asking the league to turn over that information.''
The league official who spoke to ESPN.com said the union has been given copies of two separate confidential reports regarding the investigation that also went to all NFL teams, one on March 2 and one last week.
The information that went into those reports was much more detailed than what was released to the media, the league official said.
An NFLPA official told ESPN's Schefter on Friday that extensive talks between the union and the league were expected to happen next week. But what the NFLPA has seen so far was not sufficient to make a recommendation, despite the fact Goodell was hoping to get that feedback by Friday.
Smith said in the interview that he was bothered by Goodell's use of the word "determine'' when talking about his plans to have a conversation with Smith about possible penalties for players.
"Obviously, the first word that popped out to me was the word 'determine,' '' Smith said. "I'd much rather that be the word 'discuss.' As of yet, they haven't turned over anything that we would consider to be direct evidence of player involvement in a 'pay-to-injure' scheme that we could consider for discipline."
As he wrapped up the NFL owners meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. on Wednesday afternoon, Goodell said he planned to speak to Smith in the next few days.
As part of the union's bounty investigation, Saints quarterback Drew Brees, defensive end Will Smith and former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita attended an NFLPA player rep meeting last week and met with Smith, a source told ESPN.
Smith, in the interview with the website, also addressed the situation in which former NFL defensive lineman and current NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp reported that former New Orleans tight end Jeremy Shockey was "the snitch'' that prompted the league's investigation.
Shockey repeatedly has denied talking to the league and said he had no knowledge of a bounty program or what was taking place in the defensive meeting rooms while he was in New Orleans.
"Well, it seems to me that the league itself is the one who, as well as the players, benefits from full disclosure,'' Smith said. "We have an unfortunate circumstance now where someone from the National Football League, or at least an affiliate of the National Football League, accused another player of providing information, or being the so-called 'whistleblower.' There are accusations flying back and forth about who provided the information, and who didn't provide the information.
"Whether it comes down to Roger or myself, I don't think either of us would prefer to have a disciplinary system that is being played out in public with people relying on less than full information. That does nothing to benefit the integrity of the men who play the game. It certainly does nothing to champion the disciplinary system. It does call into question issues of fairness and what's appropriate. And it is at the end, I think, tremendously unfair for any of those people who find themselves either accused of something or rumored to have done something, or told that they've done something and been punished.''
According to the NFL's report announcing suspensions for New Orleans coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, assistant head coach Joe Vitt and former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Vilma offered $10,000 as a bounty for any defensive player that injured former Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in a playoff game at the end of the 2009 season.
"Our players are extremely vocal,'' Smith said. "The ability and the access to mass media has made everyone's opinion instantly distributed to thousands, if not millions of people. Without making a comment on one person's views versus another person's views, I think the real problem is all of this is occurring in a vacuum. And because of that vacuum, it actually accelerates the speculation and the mystery and the half-truths and the falsehoods, because no one has been able to come out and say what is definitively true and what is not.
"People may not ultimately agree on the outcome, but they should be able to agree on the fairness of the process. I think a tremendous amount of the frustration that comes from the players is when they believe that the process has not been fair. It does seem to me that a simple process where players understand what the specific allegations are and what the proof of those allegations are, and then given a fair chance to address those allegations, is the basis for a fair process that we can all buy into.''
NFLPA director DeMaurice Smith says the NFL must release to the union all relevant information pertaining to its investigation of the Saints' bounty program before making any recommendations or rulings on possible player discipline.