Bounty defense a conflict for NFLPA?

There have been so many subplots to the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program that some significant ones have gotten lost in the shuffle.

Thanks to Jeff Schultz for bringing attention to one of them. In this column, Schultz writes about the role and stance the NFL Players Association has taken and suggests the union change its name to “the Union of People We Feel Like Representing."

He’s got an excellent point. In its statement after the suspensions of Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove were announced, the union said it had “not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players’ involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program."

That’s a pretty standard line from the NFLPA. Think back to last year’s lockout. How many times did we hear the union say that the NFL would not share information how much each team was making, even though the league repeatedly said the union had been supplied with as much information as possible.

It’s a similar story this time. Former New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has admitted the bounty program took place and there is that damning audiotape of Williams talking to his players the night before last season’s playoff game at San Francisco. The NFL also has said that multiple sources said Vilma offered $10,000 of his own money for bounties on Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. The NFL said Smith assisted Williams in establishing and funding the bounty program. The league also said Hargrove 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’’. The league also said Fujita pledged a significant amount of money to the bounty program.

What more evidence does the union want?

Obviously, the union is prepared to stand by Vilma, Smith, Hargrove and Fujita, who just happens to be a member of the NFLPA’s executive committee, as they make their expected appeals. Any union should stand by its members because they pay dues that should bring them support from their union.

But this is where things head to an area that looks to be painted in multiple shades of gray. The NFLPA will try to protect the four suspended members.

That screams out one huge question -- what about the union’s hundreds of other members? They pay dues too and, presumably, that buys them protection as well. Shouldn’t the union be standing by Favre and Warner, who paid dues for years? And shouldn’t the union be protecting Carolina quarterback Cam Newton and Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who the league said were also targets of the bounty program?

By standing so firmly with the suspended players, the union seems to be giving the appearance it doesn’t care about its other members or their safety and welfare. I’m sure the union would dispute that and say it cares about all its members and there’s probably truth in that.

But perception is everything. And the way the union has handled this thing so far sure make it look like it has a serious conflict of interest on its hands.

Maybe the union should step aside on this one. I don't see how you fully can stand up for the rights of your players when one group is trying to hurt another group. The union can pick a side, if it wants. But maybe choosing to not pick a side and staying out of this one is the only way the union can avoid the perception of a conflict of interest.