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NFL counsel accuses union of protecting Saints

NEW YORK – The NFL believes the players’ union is more intent on protecting the New Orleans Saints involved in the team’s bounty scandal than supporting its members who could have been hurt by the pay-for-pain plan.

Speaking to a group of AP sports editors, league counsel Jeff Pash said Friday the union’s approach is “unfortunate.”

“They were protective of the players who could be disciplined in the next phase of this,” Pash said. “That was their focus, on defending or excusing the conduct of players involved in this program. That’s unfortunate; the players who could have been or even were injured are also members of the union.

“It’s their players who put the safety of other players in jeopardy.”

Commissioner Roger Goodell met with NFL Players Association head DeMaurice Smith and members of the union’s executive committee on Monday. Pash expects Goodell to punish players soon.

Goodell already has suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season and fined the team $500,000. Saints former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely, New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis begins an eight-game ban after the preseason, and interim coach Joe Vitt begins serving his six-game suspension at the same time.

“I do think there will be player discipline that is appropriate based on the facts,” Pash said. “That’s important, because it reinforces our shared accountability here. What our investigators uncovered is a serious violation of the rules and our player safety policies.”

Spokesman George Atallah cited the union’s responsibility to all of its players, and asked to have more information from the league’s investigation turned over to the NFLPA.

“Given the current dynamic, we have an obligation to ensure that players have fair due process and we protect them from the league,” Atallah said. “If the league was more forthcoming in the information they have related to what they are alleging took place, perhaps we could be in a better position to deal with this issue in a collaborative manner.”

After the scandal broke, the NFL required all team owners and coaches to certify in writing their teams will never have such a program. Pash said the league has received assurances from all 32 franchises.

Tags: football, NFL

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