The harsh sentences to four players accused of being involved in the NFL bounty scandal by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has caused a flurry of controversy. The harshest punishment came down on New Orleans Saint's linebacker Johnathan Vilma who has been suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, was suspended for the first half of the 16-game season; Saints defensive end Will Smith was barred for the opening four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, will miss the first three games. They are all suspended without pay. Johnathan Vilma still denies his involvement and calls this situation unjust:
"I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the NFL's decision to suspend me for the 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to share any of the supposed evidence he claims supports this unprecedented punishment. The reason is clear: I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player, out of the 2009 divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game, or any other game.
"I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner. I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game."
The NFL Player's Association said they will appeal the punishment claiming that the alleged evidence gathered in the investigation does not warrant the harsh punishments. Further, many claim that it cannot be proven that they are guilty of the charges.
The NFL said as many as 27 players were involved but it focused on those who had leadership roles within the team and "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level."
The rub here is the investigation. Will Smith said he is totally innocent and did not even know he was being investigated.
"Through this entire process, the NFL never notified me of what I was being accused of, nor presented me with any evidence or reasoning for this decision."
The league says it does have proof and that Hargrove "submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it."
Sources say that while the bounty program did exist, it only existed during the playoffs for games against the Vikings and the Cardinals. If that is true, does that make the punishments any less harsh?
What if those illegal hits on Brett Favre hurt him permanently or seriously injured him. What if he had been killed? I think football is already a dangerous enough game without purposed hits to hurt opponents. I think that behavior is unacceptable. There seems to be a "boys club" going on where the 'snitches' will face retaliation from other players who are not coming foward to condemn or support the punishments.That may be smart considering the NFL is not releasing all of the evidence it claims to have against the players even though the NFL said that "multiple independent sources" said Smith "pledged significant sums to the program pool." The legal battle that is sure to come in the next few months will only add additional strain on the already conentious relationship between the NFL headed by Roger Goodell and the NFLPA headed by DeMaurice Smith. I'm just glad the lockout was settled before all this came to the forefront. What do you think? Your JGF, ~Angela Davis
*parts of this story contributed by ESPN.com