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Nov 14, 2012 8:57pm
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NEW ORLEANS —Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a union leader with a
record of criticizing the NFLs player-safety record, sees elements of a “smear
campaign” in a bounty investigation that has sullied his reputation. Reggie Wayne Youth Jersey . Some NFL players
agree, and question whether Fujitas three-game suspension has something to do
with retribution. “Im not saying the NFL is intentionally lying,” Fujita said in
an interview with The Associated Press. “Ive been willing to give them the
benefit of the doubt that they may have just been working with the information
theyve been given, even though much of that information was inaccurate and
lacked credibility. “Its their cavalier interpretation of everything thats been
way off. They clearly proceeded with a public smear campaign with very little
regard for the truth.” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could rule on the appeals
of Fujita and the other players suspended because of their roles in the bounty
program as early as Monday. Saints linebacker Scott Shanle finds it hard to
ignore the symmetry of the NFL portraying Fujita as a hypocrite on player-safety
matters after Fujita had done the same thing to the league. “When you look at
Scott, who was here for one season (of the three spanned by the bounty probe),
for him to get three games, I just felt like there had to be more of a personal
issue with that,” Shanle said. “When you look at how outspoken he is and a lot
of the issues he tries to address, it probably doesnt sit well with the league.”
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said the NFL stands by its finding that Fujita gave
“more than token amounts” of money to a pool that also rewarded injury-producing
hits called “cart-offs” and “knockouts.” “The process gave all of the players
every opportunity to raise arguments and provide any mitigating information,”
Aiello said. “Scott Fujita unfortunately chose not to avail himself of the
process. Nothing that he has asserted in his various public statements
undermines the findings of the investigation.” Fujita, who now plays for
Cleveland, was one of four current or former Saints suspended in the bounty
probe. Two of them, Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith, still play for New Orleans.
The other, Green Bay defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, left New Orleans after
2010, while Fujita left after 2009, the first season covered by the
investigation. In 2010, Fujita became a member of the NFLPA executive committee,
and has since echoed comments by Congresswoman Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.)
comparing the NFLs 2009 position on concussions links to brain disease to the
way the tobacco industry denied knowledge that smoking caused cancer. Fujita
argued Goodell undermined his own credibility on player-safety matters when he
pushed for an 18-game regular season. He called for the NFL to employ
independent neurological consultants after Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was
knocked out of a game, but allowed to return, despite later being diagnosed with
a concussion. Browns players say Fujita challenged Goodells answers to a range
of questions including how a lockout would affect players health coverage when
the commissioner visited the team in 2010. “Scott wasnt scared to ask the tough
questions that some of us wouldnt or some of us didnt even know to ask,” Browns
tight end Benjamin Watson said. “Scott wanted to make sure the commissioner
owned up to all that stuff and … you could tell that Mr. Goodell wasnt
comfortable answering some of those questions.” Former Browns linebacker
Eric Barton added, “Most people in the room were like, this guy (the
commissioner) is full of it and Scott just called him out, and it was almost
like, Oh, Scott, youre going to be in trouble.” After seeing evidence the NFL
presented against him in last weeks appeal hearing on the four players
suspensions, Fujita has more questions:—Why has the NFL linked him to
bounties in its public statements, while its disciplinary letter announcing his
suspension acknowledges there is no evidence he “pledged money toward a specific
bounty” on a particular player?—Why does that same letter state he was a
member of the Saints in the 2010 season, when he was with Cleveland? And what
does that say about the quality of the investigation?—If the investigation
was going on for parts of three years, why did no one contact him before the
leagues first report in March?—Why did Goodell twice call his personal phone
after union attorneys notified the NFL they were representing Fujita, meaning
Goodell was not supposed to call him without an NFLPA attorney on the line?
Aiello responded that while the NFL never accused Fujita of targeting a specific
opponent, his discipline letter clearly stated “that he contributed a
significant sum to the general pool that included payments for nonspecific
bounties in the form of cart-offs and knockouts.” Fujita was not contacted about
the probe earlier, Aiello said, because the league was unable to identify
specific players and their roles in the program until late in 2011. “Every
individual that was eventually disciplined was invited to speak to our office
prior to any decision on discipline,” Aiello said. “None of the players,
including Mr. Fujita, agreed to be interviewed during the process.” Aiello added
that Goodells calls to Fujita were in response to calls Fujita had placed to
Goodell, but the NFLPA said Goodell should not have been making personal calls
to players facing punishment at that point. “Its inappropriate. It is completely
outside legal conduct rules,” NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee said. “You cannot
directly contact a represented party when you know a partys represented and its
especially odd in this case when Roger purports to be the judge. Picture a judge
getting on the phone with a defendant or a suspect.” After the second call,
McPhee emailed NFL counsel Jeff Pash and Goodell, saying Fujita would be happy
to talk with Goodell with counsel present, but there was no further
communication, and Fujita learned days later hed been suspended. Fujita said his
only chance to speak with Goodell directly came in early March after the release
of the initial bounty report, which did not identify players, although Fujitas
name had been leaked. Fujita said he called Goodell to explain locker room
culture as it relates to tough talk and informal performance incentives, and how
it could be misconstrued. He said Goodell told him then that “he would have no
problem coming down hard on Saints coaches, but that when it comes to players,
hes not quite sure what hes got.” Fujita acknowledges he offered teammates cash
for big plays, mainly because “thats the way it was done when I was a young
player and I kind of looked at that as paying it forward.” But Fujita contends
he never contributed to team-organized pools, instead paying pledges directly to
teammates. The NFLs current collective bargaining agreement applies only to
pools organized by team officials, like the one former defensive co-ordinator
Gregg Williams has apologized for running. According to a transcript AP obtained
from the appeal hearing, NFL outside counsel Mary Jo White described an unnamed
coach and another witness saying Fujita pledged unspecified sums of cash for
“big plays” during the 2009-10 playoffs. The NFL also presented printed
reproductions of handwritten notes, which White said show Fujita pledging $1,000
to a pool for sacks and forced fumbles during the regular season, and $2,000
during the playoffs to a “general pool,” which she said in part paid for
injury-inducing plays. The note indicated safety Roman Harper, who was not
punished, pledged $5,000 to the general pool, and that assistant head coach Joe
Vitt pledged $5,000 to knock then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the
NFC title game. Hoping to protect those who helped their investigation, the NFL
did not present the original notes or identify who wrote them. “We dont know who
wrote the note. We havent seen original, and the fact that Joe Vitts name is on
it proves how bogus it is,” Fujita said. “No way he ever contributed not even
$100 for anything. Its not his style.” Vitt has said the part of the document
showing his pledge is false, which he said raises questions about all of the
evidence. However the bounty saga winds up, Fujita said he has no regrets about
his aggressive tactics as a union leader. “Ive had a few concussions myself. I
have a dear friend (former Saints player Steve Gleason) who has ALS. I have a
friend and former mentor (Lew Bush) who died earlier this year. Then there was
the tragic death of someone Ive admired for so long, Junior Seau,” Fujita said.
“I cant say for sure that all of these things happened because of football, but
Ive seen enough to have some concerns. I was elected to fight for these men, so
in no way do I regret that.” Johnny Unitas Jersey . – The Nashville
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.J. —New Jersey Nets guard Keith Bogans has undergone ankle surgery and is
expected to be fully recovered for training camp next season. Adam Vinatieri Jersey . Describing new
linemate Tim Connolly, a man nearly ten years his senior, Kadri – the latest
Leaf call-up – provided a glimpse of the brashness which still exists alongside
an improving maturity. Austin Collie Jersey . The leagues latest
move was to counter Vilmas attempt to initiate discovery in his defamation
lawsuit against Roger Goodell, which alleges the commissioner lacked sufficient
evidence when he publicly prejudged the Saints linebacker as the ring-leader of
New Orleans pay-for-injury bounty system.The 2012 season will be a nostalgic one
for the CFL as it marks the 100th anniversary of the Grey Cup. But after a busy
off-season, there will be plenty of drama for football fans long before the
historic championship game is played in November. The season opens with four new
head coaches across the league, slotback Andy Fantuz playing closer to home and
longtime West Division quarterbacks Ricky Ray and Henry Burris renewing their
rivalry in southern Ontario. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Hamilton Tiger-Cats,
meanwhile, will bid farewell to their longtime stadiums at the end of the season
while B.C. Lions veteran receiver Geroy Simon is on the verge of a major
milestone. “There were significant changes in the off-season,” commissioner Mark
Cohon said in an interview. “I think all these stories build great momentum for
us in 2012.” Fantuz, Burris and Ray will all be prominent figures Friday when
the regular season kicks off. Burris and Fantuz will both make their Hamilton
debut when the Tiger-Cats host Saskatchewan. The Ticats acquired Burris from
Calgary but the game will be especially significant for Fantuz, a native of
Chatham, Ont., who spent his first six CFL seasons in Regina before signing with
Hamilton as a free agent this off-season. The game will also mark the CFL
head-coaching debuts of Hamiltons George Cortez and Saskatchewans Corey
Chamblin, who served as the Ticats defensive co-ordinator last season. Later
that night, the B.C. Lions host the Winnipeg Blue Bombers in a Grey Cup rematch.
That game will mark the coaching debut of Mike Benevides. He faces the
unenviable task of replacing the legendary Wally Buono, who stepped down as
Lions head coach following the clubs Grey Cup win to concentrate on his duties
as GM full-time. Cohon will be in attendance, but not only to watch Benevides
coaching debut. Simon needs just 67 yards to break former Blue Bomber slotback
Milt Stegalls all-time receiving yards record of 15,153. If Simon, 36, breaks
the mark Friday, play will stop and Cohon will honour Simon on the field. “Its
important as a league we celebrate these amazing milestones,” Cohon said. On
Saturday night, Scott Milanovich will make his CFL head-coaching debut when
Toronto visits Edmonton. But of more importance to Eskimos fans will be Rays
return to Alberta. Ray spent nine seasons in Edmonton and led the club to two
Grey Cup titles before being dealt to Toronto for journeyman quarterback Steven
Jyles, Canadian kicker Grant Shaw and the No. 2 pick in the 2012 CFL draft.
Eskimos GM Eric Tillman was widely criticized, not only for dealing a two-time
Grey Cup champion who at age 32 would seem to still have plenty of good football
left, but getting so little in return. While Jyles is three years younger than
Ray, hes poised to play for his fifth CFL team in seven seasons and is in his
second stint with the Eskimos. The opening week of the season will conclude July
1 with Montreal visiting Calgary. Alouettes starter Anthony Calvillo, pro
footballs career passing leader, will begin his 19th CFL season and 15th with
the Als while Drew Tate begins his first full season as the Stampeders starter
after wresting the No. 1 job from Burris late last year, resulting in Burris,
the CFL MVP in 2010, being traded in the off-season. The season will culminate
with a Grey Cup at Rogers Centre that will be unlike any other held in league
histtory. Andrew Luck Youth Jersey. . And with the game
being played literally in his backyard, it only adds to the expectations on
Milanovich, who takes over a club thats missed the playoffs three times in the
last four year. “My answer to that question, because I know Im going to get it
every single day, is going to be boring and the same: We would want to win, and
win the Grey Cup, no matter where it was,” Milanovich said when asked about the
expectation he faces in Toronto. “And so to me, it really doesnt put any more
pressure on us. It is always the goal for every time in this league.” Milanovich
knows what it takes to win a Grey Cup. He was part of two CFL championship teams
as the Montreal Alouettes offensive co-ordinator in 2009-10 with Calvillo at the
controls. In Toronto, Milanovich will also have a reliable starter in Ray. With
all the off-season movement in the CFL coaching ranks, Calgary head coach/GM
John Hufnagel and Montreals Marc Trestman—both entering their fifth season—
hold the distinction of being the leagues longest-serving active head coaches.
But Benevides said his long relationship with Buono—he began his CFL coaching
career as Buonos special-teams co-ordinator in Calgary in 2000—has helped
with the transition. “From the outside looking in it would be extremely
difficult if I did not have a relationship with him,” Benevides said. “If I
looked at it that way, it would be impossible. “There will never be another
Wally Buono, there will never be anybody to win that many games again as long as
this league is around. I can only be myself.” Benevides inherits a solid team
that includes quarterback Travis Lulay (CFLs outstanding player), tailback
Andrew Harris (top Canadian in Grey Cup game), kicker Paul McCallum (CFLs top
special-teams player) and offensive lineman Jovan Olafioye (West Divisions top
lineman). And a solid secondary featuring such CFL stalwarts as Dante Marsh and
Korey Banks was bolstered by the addition of former Argos Byron Parker and Lin-J
Shell. Ending his inaugural season as Lions coach in Toronto would be especially
memorable for Benevides, a Toronto native who is also the CFLs only
Canadian-born head coach. However, history isnt exactly on Benevides side. Since
Edmonton won the last of its five straight Grey Cups in 1982, only two teams
have successfully defended their titles—the 96-97 Toronto Argonauts and
2009-10 Montreal Alouettes. Whats more, only seven times in the last 25 CFL
title games has one of the finalists reached the Grey Cup the following season.
Burris will lead Hamilton in its final season at Ivor Wynne Stadium, the clubs
home since 1950. Following the Ticats final home game of 2012, the facility will
be replaced with a new one that will be used during the 2015 Pan Am Games but be
available for the CFL club in time for the 2014 campaign. However, that will
leave the Ticats without a home stadium for the 2013 season. The club approached
McMaster University about playing some games there but the school declined,
forcing team officials to continue their quest for a temporary home. And
Winnipeg will be staying put at Canad Inns Stadium, at least for this season.
The club had hoped to play at brand new Investors Group Field in 2012, but
construction delays will force the Bombers to remain at Canad Inns before moving
into the facility in time for the next year. ’ ’ ’ 

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