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Are Bounty Punishments a “Smear Campaign” by the NFL?

Many thought that the punishments handed out to current and former New Orleans Saints‘ players and coaches were too harsh when they were first handed down. But, now one former Saints player is actually calling it a “smear campaign.”

The player is Scott Fujita, former Saints’ linebacker that left the organization after the 2009 season and now plays with Cleveland. Fujita was found guilty in the bounty program investigation of contributing “a significant sum to the general pool that included payments for nonspecific bounties in the form of ‘cart-offs’ and ‘knockouts,'” according to NFL spokesman Greg Aiello in his discipline letter.

But while Fujita doesn’t deny the claims, and even calls making his contributions “paying it forward,” he thinks his three-game suspension is too harsh; and believes the league is actually just carrying out vengeance for his arguments against current NFL player-safety standards in the past. It was in 2010 that Fujita, as part of the NFLPA executive committee, spoke out about the NFL’s knowledge of concussions and how they relate to brain disease. At the time Fujita said that while the league knew, they covered it up much like the tobacco industry did when they discovered the dangers of smoking.

Now Fujita thinks the NFL is simply seizing the opportunity to make him pay for his earlier comments.

“I’m not saying the NFL is intentionally lying,” Fujita told 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.”

One of the NFL’s reports stated that Fujita played for the Saints in 2010, when he already with the Browns. This he says, is just one indication of what a shoddy investigation it was. Fujita also accused the league of not approaching him about the 3-year investigation until reports first came out in March.

While the league did not touch on whether or not they were carrying out a vendetta against Fujita, Aiello did release a statement saying, “The process gave all players every opportunity to raise arguments and provide any mitigating information. 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 this investigation.”

The league also states that none of the players involved were told about the investigation any earlier than March in order to protect those who brought the bounty matter to the attention of the authorities.

Fujita has appealed his suspension, and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell could rule on that appeal as early as today. Other players who have also appealed their punishments will also be ruled on at the same time.

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