NEW ORLEANS — Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has appealed his season-long suspension by the NFL, requesting the league to provide evidence that he pledged money or received payment for injuring players.
Roger Goodell suspended Vilma last Wednesday, effective immediately, for what the commissioner felt was the leadership role the linebacker took in the program, which the league said ran from 2009 to 2011.
Vilma’s lawyer, Peter R. Ginsburg, also requested that the appeal be heard by Ted Cottrell and Art Shell, league hearing officers, instead of Goodell. He also asked for the league to halt the process until it has been determined who should hear the appeal.
Additionally, Saints defensive end Will Smith was suspended for four games while former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita will be out three games and defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove eight.
All four appealed their suspensions Monday, the final day they could, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said.
“I disagree wholeheartedly with the discipline imposed,” Fujita said in a statement posted on his website. “I’ve yet to hear the specifics of any allegation against me, nor have I seen any evidence that supports what the NFL alleges in its press release. I look forward to the opportunity to confront what evidence they claim to have in the appropriate forum.
“Until then, I stand by my previous comments. I have never contributed money to any so-called ‘bounty’ pool, and my statements to the contrary are false. To say I’m disappointed with the League would be a huge understatement.”
The NFL said the Saints were running the program between 2009 and 2011 and that Vilma put up $10,000 to knock Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2010 NFC divisional playoff game and Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game.
Ginsberg said in a written appeal to Goodell that the NFL has denied previous requests to provide Vilma with evidence , adding “the failure of the NFL to conduct itself in a just manner has compromised the process and resulted in erroneous and damaging conclusions.”
Meanwhile, Yahoo! Sports’ Jason Cole reported that the signed document that Hargrove turned in to the NFL was used as evidence that the program was real. Hargrove, according to Cole, did that at the behest of the NFL Players Association, which believed the document would show that the players were doing what they were told by coaches.
The document, Cole said, diagrammed how Hargrove was told by former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and current interim coach Joe Vitt to deny knowlege of a bounty program to the NFL when asked about it.