Harsh penalties to players in bounty scandal

752648.jpg

Harsh penalties to players in bounty scandal

From Comcast SportsNetHoping to close the book on bounties, the NFL suspended New Orleans Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma without pay for all of next season Wednesday and gave shorter bans to three other players for their leading roles in the team's cash-for-hits system that knocked key opponents out of games from 2009-11.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 of 2012. Like Vilma, they were suspended without pay, costing each hundreds of thousands of dollars.The league said its investigation showed "a significant number of players participated" in the bounties -- by ponying up cash or collecting it -- but noted that "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level." Add the losses of Vilma and Smith to the previously announced suspension of head coach Sean Payton for all of 2012, along with shorter penalties for general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came down hard on the Saints ahead of a season that will end with New Orleans hosting the Super Bowl.As attention to concussions has increased in recent seasons, Goodell has emphasized the importance of player safety via rules enforcement and threats of fines or suspensions. The NFL is facing dozens of lawsuits brought by more than 1,000 former players who say the league didn't do enough to warn them about -- or shield them from -- the dangers of head injuries.If Goodell aims to move on from the bounty case, the NFL Players Association might not let him: The suspended players have three days to appeal, and NFLPA head DeMaurice Smith said the union would fight the ruling. Fujita is a member of the NFLPA's executive committee who has spoken out in the past about the need for the league to do a better job of protecting players.Through his agent, Vilma issued a statement saying he is "shocked and extremely disappointed" by the punishment and denying he was a bounty ringleader."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," Vilma said. He added: "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."Will Smith also denied a role in the bounties."I have never in my career, nor as a captain asked others, to intentionally target and hurt specific opposing players. I was in no way involved in establishing ... a bounty program. The accusations made against me are completely and one-hundred percent false, and I plan to appeal," he said via statement sent by his publicist. "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. I am interested in discovering who is making these specific and false accusations, and as well as why a decision was made without speaking with me and giving me the opportunity to review the facts."DeMaurice Smith said the union "has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf."The league said no player agreed to be interviewed in person and the NFLPA did not share information from its own investigation.According to the NFL, its investigation determined the Saints ran a bounty system for three seasons, with thousands of dollars offered for big hits that sidelined opponents. Originally, the league said 22 to 27 defensive players were involved in the illegal scheme, which was orchestrated by then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and started in the season New Orleans won its only Super Bowl championship.Targeted players included quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. "Knockouts" were worth 1,500 and "cart-offs" 1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs."In assessing player discipline, I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; andor obstructed the 2010 investigation," Goodell said in a statement.According to the league, Vilma, a linebacker, offered 10,000 in cash to any player who knocked then-Cardinals QB Warner out of a playoff game at the end of the 2009 season, and the same amount for knocking then-Vikings QB Favre out of that season's NFC championship game. The Saints were flagged for roughing Favre twice in that game, and the league later said they should have received another penalty for a brutal high-low hit from two players that hurt Favre's ankle. He was able to finish the game, but the Saints won in overtime en route to the NFL title.Fujita, the NFL said, "pledged a significant amount of money to the prohibited pay-for-performancebounty pool" during that season's playoffs. Smith, according to the NFL, "pledged significant sums to the program pool."The league said Hargrove "actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators." He also "actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints," the league said, adding that he eventually "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."Vilma will miss out on 1.6 million in base salary in 2012, while Fujita stands lose more than 640,000, Hargrove more than 385,000, and Smith more than 190,000. Some of their contracts were restructured this offseason, perhaps in anticipation of the punishments.The Saints, Browns and Packers already have made personnel moves that could help fill the gaps. The Saints signed three linebackers in free agency; the Packers, who also will be without defensive end Mike Neal for four games because he violated the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances, drafted two defensive linemen last week; and the Browns drafted two linebackers."We will respect the Commissioner's decision. Scott is a valued member of the Cleveland Browns, and we look forward to his participation in our offseason program and training camp," Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.The other two clubs did not immediately comment.Any payout for specific performances in a game, including interceptions or causing fumbles, is against NFL rules. The NFL warns teams against such practices before each season, although in the aftermath of the revelations about the Saints, current and former players from various teams talked about that sort of thing happening frequently -- just not on the same scale as was found in New Orleans.Goodell's decision was heavily criticized via Twitter by many players. But not all."I think he's doing the right thing to make sure this doesn't happen ever again. There's no room for any kind of bounty system in the NFL. It's a physical sport, and you've got to respect the game," New York Giants quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning said. "He's been harsh, to try to make a statement saying there is no place for this in the game of football."James Harrison of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a linebacker suspended by the NFL for a game last season after an illegal hit on Browns quarterback Colt McCoy, tweeted that the penalties were "ridiculous" and suggested that Goodell's crackdown is motivated by the concussion lawsuits and a desire to increase the regular season to 18 games.Saints tight end Jimmy Graham tweeted: "I want to see the evidence and hear an explanation."Reggie Bush, a running back who played for the Saints from 2006-10 and now is with the Miami Dolphins, wrote on Twitter that the suspensions were "outrageous" and "Next thing you know we'll be playing two hand touch football! (hash)Lame"In a memo sent Wednesday to the NFL's 32 teams, Goodell reminded them that "any program of non-contract bonuses, however it is characterized, is a violation of league rules" and said that every head coach must review those rules with assistants and players during mini-camp or preseason training camp.Also, all players will be told how they can confidentially report rules violations.In March, Goodell made Payton the first head coach suspended by the league for any reason, for trying to cover up the system of extra cash payouts. Goodell also indefinitely banned Williams, who was hired in January to run the St. Louis Rams' defense. Loomis was barred for eight games; Vitt for six. The Saints were fined 500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks.Fujita, Hargrove and Smith are allowed to participate in offseason activity, including preseason games, before their suspensions take effect. Vilma, though, is suspended immediately and will be reinstated after the coming season's Super Bowl is played in his team's city."Nothing can be gained from sharing how I feel about" his teammates' penalties, Saints right tackle Zach Strief said. "I will miss Jonathan very much. Knowing him personally, he's a good person. This is going to be a tough thing for him to go through. In terms of his leadership, somebody else will step up and take over."

Quick Links

Behind Gausman, Orioles win round 2 in 'Beltway Battle'

Behind Gausman, Orioles win round 2 in 'Beltway Battle'

BALTIMORE—Now that Chris Tillman is headed to the disabled list, Kevin Gausman will be more important than ever to the Orioles.

On Tuesday night, Gausman showed just how important he can be with six shutout innings against the Washington Nationals.

With Dylan Bundy, Yovani Gallardo, Wade Miley and now Ubaldo Jimenez in the rotation, Gausman’s role will be much more prominent. 

Gausman’s second straight win, the first time he’s done that in more than two years, gave the Orioles an 8-1 win over the Nationals, their second straight win in the Battle of the Beltways before 26,697 at Oriole Park. 

It was the first time Gausman won two straight since June 2014 when he won three in a row. In his next start, he’ll try and forget his road woes when he faces the New York Yankees on Sunday. Gausman hasn’t won on the road since Aug. 17, 2014.

He knows that Tillman will be hard to replace. 

“It’s going to be huge, especially this time of year. Every game matters from here on out, especially in a tight race in the east. We’re sad to miss him, but hopefully a little bit of rest will get him to come back and he’ll be ready to go,” Gausman said. 

Dylan Bundy dazzled the Nationals on Monday, and Gausman was effective enough to hold the lead the Orioles gave him.

“You could say there were a lot of deep counts and a lot of pitches in three or four or five innings, but you can’t drop your guard against those guys. They have so many landmines through their order that you’ve just got to keep grinding. We’ll take the finished product. He gave us six shutout innings and Kevin wanted to go another inning. I feel good, knock on wood, about the way he and Dylan feel right now this time of year,” manager Buck Showalter said. 

The Orioles (69-56) knocked out Reynaldo Lopez (2-2) out in the third after six runs scored. 

Mark Trumbo, who hadn’t had a hit that wasn’t a home run since Aug. 11, scored Adam Jones in the first on an RBI single. Trumbo, the only player this year who had seven straight hits that were home runs, was out at second. 

Matt Wieters’ double and Jones’ single gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead in the second. 

Three more runs scored in the third on a Jonathan Schoop RBI double and a two-run error with the bases loaded by Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy. 

Lopez left after the error.

“I think we just waited him out. Lopez, the guy has electric stuff, sitting at 96 to 98 with a sharp curveball, good changeup. We just made him work, made him throw strikes, got to favorable counts. He's got good stuff, so be sure to pay attention to him in his future,” Jones said. 

Showalter won three replay challenges in the first three innings. Twice, Washington center fielder Trea Turner was ruled safe at second on a stolen base, and twice the call was overturned. 

In the bottom of the third, Jones beat out an infield single after review. 

“It certainly helped. We needed each one of them. It kept any momentum from getting going,” Showalter said. 

The Orioles are now 19-for-32 on replay challenges. Their three correct challenges equal the major league season high. 

Jones ended up with four singles, equaling his career high. 

“We know how to hit also. We've got a lot of professional hitters here who know how to hit with men in scoring position, not just homers,” Jones said. 

Gausman (5-10) left after six.

“It was good. I got away with some pitches early, and had some balls go foul. That was pretty big. I didn’t necessarily pitch great, but it’s just one of those days where you try to keep grinding and look up and somehow, I didn’t give up a run,” Gausman said.

Vance Worley allowed a run in the seventh on four singles. Danny Espinosa’s RBI single was the only run for the Nationals (73-52). 

Chris Davis hit his 30th home run of the season in the eighth. It’s the fourth time in his Orioles career he’s hit 30.  

Worley worked three innings for his first career save. 

NOTES: The Orioles are planning to visit Walter Reed National Military Center on Wednesday. … Wade Miley (7-10, 5.58) faces Tanner Roark (13-6, 2.87) on Wednesday at Nationals Park. 
 

Quick Links

Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles manager Showalter

Nats fall on wrong side of three challenges by Orioles manager Showalter

Manager Dusty Baker is new to MLB's system of replay challenges as the first-year skipper of the Washington Nationals. There have been times this season where the rules have helped Baker and his team. Tuesday night was not one of those times.

Buck Showalter of the Orioles matched an MLB season-high with three successful manager challenges in the Nats' 8-1 loss at Camden Yards. Two of them pulled Trea Turner off the basepaths. One of them ruled Adam Jones safe to extend an inning.

The two Turner ones hurt the most, as they contributed to a long night for the Nationals offense, one in which they landed 10 hits but scored just one run. Turner was ruled out on two steal attempts at second base. One was in the first inning after he led off the game with a single. The other was in the third inning, again after he got on with a single.

Both plays featured throws by Orioles catcher Matt Wieters that were to the right of the bag, but second baseman Jonathan Schoop was able to pull the ball in and make the tag with Turner sliding past him.

"You can’t do anything if the throws are towards first base," Baker said. "They weren’t very good throws. It just happens they were very good tags. You got a 6-foot-4, long-armed second baseman, and most people don’t even get down in that position to make that tag."

Turner agreed on the throws and wished, in a sense, they were more on target.

"I just wish he would have made good throws right over the bag, I think I have a better chance that way," he said. "Throw gets taken up the line, you know he can put the tag on you a little bit faster and that's what happened tonight."

Getting Turner, one of the fastest players in baseball, into scoring position generally leads to good things. The Nats instead had him sent back to the dugout after lengthy delays while the umpires conferred with New York.

Both Baker and Turner stewed over the replay system itself as they waited. And afterwards each made their opinions clear.

"Don't care for it too much. I don't think I or we or anybody on this side has really benefit from it, so for that reason I don't really care for it," Turner said.

Baker was much more direct and descriptive.

"Number one, I just think it takes too long… they've gotta do something to correct the length of time. Maybe after 30 seconds if they're inconclusive, then come up with whatever the umpire said," Baker said.

"It sort of makes a point of why do we need umpires, if you're going to dispute everything that they say? I don't know. I'm kind of new this year to replay, but it's tough to lose three of them… To me, it doesn't make the umpires look very good. I just hope they correct this."

[RELATED: Lopez rocked as Nats suffer lopsided loss to Orioles]

SCROLL DOWN FOR MORE NATIONAL STORIES

Quick Links

What happens next as Tillman's injury will send him to disabled list

What happens next as Tillman's injury will send him to disabled list

BALTIMORE—Chris Tillman, the Orioles winningest pitcher, is going on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation. 

Tillman, who was supposed to start against Max Scherzer at Nationals Park on Thursday, will miss that start and will be eligible to return on Sept. 5. 

He received a cortisone shot on his right shoulder, but there are no plans for an MRI. 

Tillman is 15-5 with a 3.76 ERA. He first experienced discomfort on Aug. 12, the day after he won his 15th game, pitching seven innings at Oakland. 

He was bumped from a scheduled start on Aug. 17, and started on Saturday, and allowed six runs in two-plus innings against Houston. 

After the game he said he felt fine, but he tried to throw in the bullpen Tuesday afternoon, and it didn’t go well. 

MORE ORIOLES: GAUSMAN GETS 2ND STRAIGHT WIN AS O'S TOP NATIONALS

“I thought once it got loose it would really go away but it never really did, and that was my first time actually experiencing it while throwing. Last time, I was pretty sore right after my start, but after feeling it today, I’d much rather just get this behind us and get out in front of it so that way we’re not worried about it for the rest of the year,” Tillman said. 

“I would have liked to have had better results, or response, from the last outing, but it just didn’t respond very well. So we’re trying to be safe, get this thing in the rear-view mirror. That way I’m not fighting it all year. That’s probably the best way to go about it.”

Tillman hopes the DL stint, which hasn’t been announced and will be backdated to Sunday, will allow him to pitch pain-free for the last few weeks of the regular season.

“I would think so, yes, but you know what? I’m going to take it day-by-day. That’s the only thing I can do right now. Play it by ear,” Tillman said. 

“It’s tough. I don’t like it, but it is what it is. It happened, and we’ve got to get better now. I think this is the best way to go about it, and we had talked about it a little. I’d rather feel better at the end of the season rather than fighting it all year.” 

Adam Jones, who was traded with Tillman from Seattle to the Orioles in 2008, is confident the Orioles will be able to overcome his loss.

“We are going to miss him on the mound. He’s still going to be here every day. I look at it as a time for him to go heal. We are still going to keep fighting, grinding and when he comes back hopefully after the 15 days, mid-September, whenever he does, he comes back fresh and ready to make his last three or four starts in a tight race,” Jones said. 

“You can look at it both ways. I want him to heal, but I want I him to heal and get better so he definitely helps us in the final push because he’s that important to our staff.”

Ubaldo Jimenez will take Tillman's spot on Thursday in Washington.