Below is a transcript of NFL Executive Vice President of Labor and General Counsel Jeff Pash’s comments to media members at today’s Special League Meeting in Dallas, Texas.
NFL EXECUTVIE VICE PRESIDENT OF LABOR AND GENERAL COUNSEL JEFF PASH
SPECIAL LEAGUE MEETING (DALLAS, TEXAS)
December 12, 2012
On both sides claiming victory after Commissioner Tagliabue’s ruling:
It is a victory for both sides in a number of respects. First of all, it has achieved what was obviously Commissioner Tagliabue’s intended outcome, which was finality. I believe the litigation in New Orleans is going to come to an end. We have a clear understanding in the evidence and the factual summary the commissioner laid out in some detail. It is indisputable what happened. It is indisputable how serious an issue it is. It is indisputable that Commissioner Goodell has broad responsibility and a shared responsibility with clubs and players to continue to advance player safety.
From the players’ perspective, obviously, the vacating of the discipline is a very positive outcome for them, and there is no way to suggest otherwise. I wouldn’t try to.
The other thing I would try to say, which I think is important and very positive for both sides, is this decision by Commissioner Tagliabue comes out of the collectively bargained process. We have said all along that there is a process here. It was negotiated and it works. It has been in place for 30 years, going back to the days of Commissioner (Pete) Rozelle. What happened yesterday is a further demonstration that we have a process, it can and does work and we think that is a very good outcome, as well.
As to the substance of the decision, if you step back and look at the record that was before Commissioner Tagliabue, it was really quite extraordinary. It was a record developed as a result of a very detailed investigation that our security staff performed. There were multiple hearings before Commissioner Goodell. There was a record developed in the federal court in New Orleans, and then there was a further record developed in four detailed days in front of Commissioner Tagliabue that included very thorough cross-examination, extensive production of documents, analysis by handwriting experts and all kinds of things. Out of that record, which is the most extensive record that I can think of in more than 30 years of working in sports in a league disciplinary proceeding, what did Paul Tagliabue find? There was a bounty program that operated at the club for three years. (Saints LB) Jonathan Vilma offered a $10,000 bounty on (former Vikings QB) Brett Favre before the (2009) NFC Championship game. I believe Commissioner Tagliabue’s words were ‘there is more than enough evidence to conclude that, in fact, he did so as Commissioner Goodell found.’ There was an extensive ongoing effort by the coaching staff and others at the Saints to cover up this program. It included lying to investigators, encouraging others to lie, destroying evidence and taking other steps to obstruct the investigation over a significant period of time. The program encouraged and rewarded what are called ‘cart-offs.’ Cart-offs were plays when the opposing player was sufficiently injured and he had to leave the game.
Some of you may have seen in the context of early reports that Commissioner Goodell issued an example in a game involving the Saints and the Carolina Panthers where after the game the defense was commended for ‘three cart-offs, one already on injured reserve’ – the Carolina quarterback (Matt Moore). There were photographs literally of players being carted off the field. As one player told Commissioner Goodell, ‘Yeah, that is what we were told. ‘Let’s crank up the John Deere tractor and cart those guys off.’’
Was there a program? Did it involve rewards and incentives that we believe led to injury? Was there a bounty placed on Brett Favre? Was there an active effort at obstruction? Obviously. I don’t think any of those points which were central to Commissioner Goodell’s decisions earlier this year can be contested any longer. In that respect, the opinion yesterday, not withstanding that the discipline wasn’t upheld – I’ll comment on that in a moment – it certainly thoroughly supports all of the findings that the commissioner made earlier this year.
On the discipline, I have great respect for Paul Tagliabue. He was my teacher, my mentor; he is a friend. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him and the lessons I learned from him. Like with many mentors and parents – I get it from my own children – you don’t always agree with everything. I respectfully would disagree with his assessment. I think he was focused on what he saw as the relative degree of culpability and accountability of coaches on one hand and players on the other hand, but that was his job as the appeals officer to make those decisions. As I said, we accept it and we respect it. We are prepared to move forward.
On the NFLPA’s request to release the transcripts from the appeals hearings:
That is not my transcript to release. Commissioner Tagliabue directed that the transcripts be maintained in confidence. His ruling speaks for itself, and I don’t see any reason why we should re-litigate the matter yet again by having a battle of excerpts of transcripts.
On the Saints’ record in 2012 as part of the punishment:
No, this was not an effort to punish the season, punish the fans or anything like that. What Commissioner Goodell did was try to assess what he thought were appropriate sanctions on people who were guilty of conduct detrimental. The decision yesterday makes it as clear as the English language permits that the coaches and others at the club, non-players, engaged in that conduct detrimental and that the sanctions are appropriate in that light.
On if more sanctions can be imposed on Saints coaches and management:
Commissioner Tagliabue’s ruling was only on player matters. It doesn’t affect the discipline on the coaches or the club. I don’t believe that is currently something Commissioner Goodell is thinking about.
On Commissioner Tagliabue’s decision showing he is not favoring one side due to his previous position with the league:
[Laughter]Based on what I have heard from a lot of people, he certainly didn’t lean in our direction. No, I think he did exactly what he was charged to do, which was to be independent and to have full authority. I think Commissioner Goodell’s words were full authority and complete independence to resolve the appeals. He exercised that and he exercised it in a fully appropriate way.
On if it will serve as a deterrent in the future:
I would be very surprised if we see a bounty program again like this if for no other reason than I don’t believe coaches or clubs would want to expose themselves to this level of discipline that was in place here with the non-player staff in New Orleans. I would be surprised if we see something like this again; I certainly hope not.
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