December 21, 2014

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Appeal denied: Bounty suspensions stand; Browns’ Scott Fujita expected decision, but plans to keep fighting

Browns linebacker Scott Fujita saw this coming.

That doesn’t mean he accepts it, or will quit fighting.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell rejected Tuesday the appeals of Fujita and three of his former New Orleans Saints teammates, Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith. The four have been suspended by Goodell for their alleged roles in the Saints’ bounty scandal.

Fujita, whose three-game suspension was the shortest, has repeatedly and adamantly denied ever paying for injuries or contributing to an injury pool, and has called the bounty investigation a “smear campaign.” He told The Chronicle-Telegram he wasn’t surprised by Goodell’s decision to uphold the suspension he handed down and will defer to the players union regarding further legal action.

“The players are disappointed with the league’s conduct during this process,” the union said in a statement. “We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement.

“Moreover, the commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator. We will continue to pursue all options.”

The players plan to fight Goodell’s rulings through the federal court system. They have declined to meet with Goodell — he kept the door open for the players to talk to him and present evidence — because they have argued he lacked jurisdiction in the matter and violated the spirit of the collective bargaining agreement with public statements that demonstrated he could not be a neutral arbitrator.

The players likely would have relinquished those legal arguments had they defended themselves to Goodell through the league’s disciplinary system.

“I am in favor of any process that leads to an honest and fair resolution and that gets the whole truth out on the table,” Fujita wrote in an email.

Vilma, who was suspended for the entire 2012 season, has already filed two lawsuits in federal court in New Orleans. The players previously lost two grievances seeking to overrule Goodell’s jurisdiction in the case.

While Fujita’s fight isn’t over, the Browns must be prepared to start the season without him, although he’s permitted to attend training camp and play in the preseason. Kaluka Maiava is first in line to start.

Maiava, in his fourth year, started six games in 2011, all when Fujita was injured. Maiava started the final five when Fujita went on injured reserve with a broken hand and totaled 20 tackles. Maiava would start again on the weak side, while Chris Gocong slides to the strong side.

The NFL says its investigation found that Saints players paid into a system, run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams in 2009-11, that offered improper cash payments to teammates who injured targeted opponents.

Goodell said he didn’t take his initial decision lightly and pointed out that players did not help their cause by refusing to participate fully in the appeal process.

Vilma and his lawyer walked out of a June 16 appeal hearing early. The other three players, who were represented by NFLPA attorneys, refused to present any evidence or witnesses of their own, and did not question the NFL investigators.

“Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,’ your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing,” Goodell wrote in his appeal ruling. “You elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore” the collective bargaining agreement.

Browns tight end Evan Moore offered an interesting opinion on Twitter.

“If WE have a problem with appealing directly to the commissioner then maybe WE should have thought about that when rushing to sign new CBA,” he wrote.

Information from the Associated Press was used in the article.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Fan him
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