NFL, bounty players to meet
The meeting between NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and the four players who face possible renewed suspensions for their alleged involvement in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal is scheduled for Tuesday in New York, a source with knowledge of the meeting told ESPN.
Tuesday is a day off for most players in the NFL.
Goodell will, in accordance with the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, meet with Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith of the Saints; Scott Fujita, a former member of the Saints now with the Cleveland Browns; and Anthony Hargrove, a former Saints player who is a free agent.
Saints Bounty Scandal
An NFL investigation found the New Orleans Saints operated a bounty system that rewarded 22 to 27 players for hard hits and for injuring opposing players. Profile »
The original suspensions of those four players were vacated Friday by a three-member appeals panel. Vilma originally was suspended for the season, Hargrove for eight games, Smith for four games and Fujita for three games.
While the appeals panel did not address the merits of the NFL's bounty investigation, it said Goodell should be limited to whether he can prove the players intended to injure opponents, which would fall in the category of conduct detrimental to the game. The panel's decision states that Special Master Stephen Burbank, not Goodell, should discipline players for receiving money from a pool that paid for big plays.
Earlier Wednesday, Goodell said he wanted to meet with the four players "as soon as possible."
Appearing at a hearing on Capitol Hill, Goodell noted Wednesday that the league "offered several times to have them come in as part of the hearing process, the CBA process, and I hope that they'll do that soon."
Vilma on Tuesday told ESPN's Ed Werder in a text message that he was expecting a fair hearing. Vilma walked out of a June 18 appeals hearing with Goodell, refusing to participate in what his attorney Peter Ginsberg described as a charade, and in August he requested a meeting with Goodell that he later canceled.
"I'm expecting a fair meeting, unlike the June 18 appeals hearing," Vilma said in the text. "We can all benefit from transparency regarding evidence and witnesses instead of using conjecture or hearsay to come to inaccurate conclusions. I look forward to getting this accomplished."
Ginsberg told ESPN on Tuesday that he has not been provided any assurances the league would allow the players and their legal representatives the opportunity to review evidence or cross-examine witnesses.
Those issues prompted Vilma to walk out previously.
"We want to see the evidence and confront the witnesses," Ginsberg said. "When the commissioner produces less than 1 percent of the evidence gathered in the investigation, it became abundantly clear we were not being offered a fair opportunity to present to him in a very strong and detailed manner what in fact took place and decided not to participate in what was clearly a charade.
"We hope that now as we regroup that we are provided a fair and appropriate avenue to a just resolution."
Players and coaches implicated in the bounty pool have testified under oath in a related federal court case they never intended to injure opposing players.
Only Smith played on Sunday, when the Saints lost to Washington. Vilma was placed on the physically unable to perform list, while Fujita sat out Cleveland's loss to Philadelphia with a leg injury.
Information from ESPN NFL Insider Ed Werder and The Associated Press was used in this report.
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