NFL player sees bounty probe as a 'smear campaign'

710116.jpg

NFL player sees bounty probe as a 'smear campaign'

From Comcast SportsNet
NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, a union leader with a record of criticizing the NFL's player-safety record, sees elements of a "smear campaign" in a bounty investigation that has sullied his reputation. Some NFL players agree, and question whether Fujita's three-game suspension has something to do with retribution. "I'm not saying the NFL is intentionally lying," Fujita said in an interview with The Associated Press. "I've been willing to give them the benefit of the doubt that they may have just been working with the information they've been given, even though much of that information was inaccurate and lacked credibility. "It's their cavalier interpretation of everything that's 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 doesn't 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 NFL's 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 Goodell's answers to a range of questions including how a lockout would affect players' health coverage when the commissioner visited the team in 2010. "Scott wasn't scared to ask the tough questions that some of us wouldn't or some of us didn't 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 wasn't 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, you're going to be in trouble.'" After seeing evidence the NFL presented against him in last week's 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 league's 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 Goodell's 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. "It's inappropriate. It is completely outside legal conduct rules," NFLPA lawyer Heather McPhee said. "You cannot directly contact a represented party when you know a party's represented and it's 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 he'd 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 Fujita's 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, he's not quite sure what he's got." Fujita acknowledges he offered teammates cash for big plays, mainly because "that's 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 NFL's current collective bargaining agreement applies only to pools organized by team officials, like the one former defensive coordinator 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 don't know who wrote the note. We haven't seen original, and the fact that Joe Vitt's name is on it proves how bogus it is," Fujita said. "No way he ever contributed not even 100 for anything. It's 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. "I've 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 I've admired for so long, Junior Seau," Fujita said. "I can't say for sure that all of these things happened because of football, but I've seen enough to have some concerns. I was elected to fight for these men, so in no way do I regret that."

Mullin sees potential Warriors-Cavs trilogy Finals going six games, but...

Mullin sees potential Warriors-Cavs trilogy Finals going six games, but...

As the defending champion Cavaliers are one win away from advancing to the NBA Finals, the consensus is they will meet the Warriors there and, moreover, that Part III of the trilogy promises to be the most compelling yet.

Chris Mullin is not so sure.

The Hall of Fame forward and current St. John's head coach, a guest Wednesday on the NBC Sports Bay Area Warriors Insider Podcast, perceives a reasonable chance of sweeping the series.

“I’m going on the record saying 4-2, just because maybe I want to see six games,” Mullin said. “I would not be surprised if it’s 4-1 or 4-zero. I think they’re that good.”

Recalling how the Warriors started sluggishly after a one-week layoff ahead of Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals against the Spurs, Mullin conceded there could be some rust but probably not enough to invite a loss.

“I don’t want to lay any . . . pressure, but the Warriors, to me, this team that we’re watching is going to go down in history as one of the best teams of all time,” he said. “I believe that. I think they will stay together and that’s we’re probably going to see four Hall of Fame players that have played together and have dominated and become a dynasty. That’s what we’re going to look back on.

“There’s just a huge disparity between them and the rest of the league -- and not just the Cavaliers. But there’s a huge disparity between them and the Cavaliers. “

The Warriors defeated Cleveland in six games to win the championship in 2015, but the Cavaliers recovered from a 3-1 deficit to take the rematch last June.

Though both teams have made substantive changes, Mullin is more impressed with what the Warriors have done, including the addition of four-time scoring champion Kevin Durant to a nucleus that included All-Stars Stephen Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Mullin pointed out that the losses of Andrew Bogut, along with subtractions to their fabled depth and chemistry, led some to wonder if the Warriors might lose the magic of the previous two seasons. He also understands that point of view.

“But as I see it now,” he said, “I think they’re deeper and have better chemistry than they did last year when they won 73 games.”

It’s not that Mullin gives the Cavaliers, who have won 11 of 12 games in these playoffs, zero chance to win the series. It is just, in his view, very slim. “Cleveland, they’ve got really good people,” he said. “Their talent, I’m not discounting at all. LeBron and Kyrie and Kevin Love, these guys are great, great players.

“I feel like the Warriors are just a notch above everybody. I really believe that.”

 

Giants promote power-hitting outfield prospect to Triple-A

Giants promote power-hitting outfield prospect to Triple-A

CHICAGO -- The Giants wanted Christian Arroyo to force his way up to the big leagues. Chris Shaw isn't exactly in the same boat, but he is now at the same level where Arroyo was to start the year. 

Shaw, the top power-hitting prospect in the organization, was promoted from Double-A Richmond to Triple-A Sacramento on Wednesday morning. General manager Bobby Evans said Shaw, a first baseman in his first couple of years in the minors, will continue his recent outfield work. Shaw had been playing left field in Richmond and he will be the primary left fielder in Sacramento.

"He's put himself in a position where the next test is the Triple-A level," Evans said. "He was starting to get to the point where he was ready for the next challenge."

It is unlikely that Shaw gets promoted again this season because the Giants do not need to add him to the 40-man roster until after the 2018 season. Arroyo, on the other hand, would have been added after this season anyway. Austin Slater, who also needs to be added at some point in 2017, is more likely to earn a September call-up. The Giants do, however, leave the door open for prospects to force the issue. 

The 23-year-old Shaw was the 31st overall pick in the 2015 draft. He hit 12 homers in 46 games in rookie ball and then slugged 16 in 72 games for the San Jose Giants, earning a promotion late in 2016. Shaw had five more homers in two months with the Flying Squirrels and he opened up this year with six in 133 at-bats. 

In three minor league seasons, Shaw is batting .277 with a .350 on-base percentage and .503 slugging percentage. He has 39 homers in 813 professional at-bats, along with 59 doubles and four triples. In 37 games this season, Shaw has 26 strikeouts and 18 walks.

"He controls the strike zone and he's got a fairly decent eye," Evans said. "He strikes out a relatively low percentage of the time and has a pretty good walk rate for a power guy."

Shaw played quite a bit in the outfield at Boston College but he was a first baseman in the minors until this season. With Brandon Belt locked in at first at the big league level, the Giants started giving Shaw starts in left field. Before leaving Richmond, Shaw made 18 starts in the outfield, totaling 158 innings. 

Listed at 6-foot-4, 235 pounds, Shaw would be big in left, even by the Giants' standards. In the past, scouts -- who admitted they had only seen him at first -- insisted he probably can't handle the position, but the Giants disagree. Shaw is said to have the footwork to handle left, but he's working on getting comfortable with throws. 

"He played a lot of outfield in college, pretty close to 100 games, mostly in right field," Evans said. "We'd like to give him as much time as possible to get comfortable.  We discussed (the outfield) this spring and we made a more conscious decision to get him out there (in left). That was a discussion from the time he was drafted."