Bounty bans rescinded for NFL players

11 December 2012 21:42

Saints players Jonathan Vilma and Will Smith, as well as Scott Fujita, who has since joined the Cleveland Browns, and now-free agent Anthony Hargrove, have had their suspensions overturned despite Tagliabue affirming Commissioner Roger Goodell's original findings.

In his final decision, Tagliabue, appointed to handle the second round of appeals, ruled it was not possible to prove the players intended to injure opposition players, adding that singling out the four while other team-mates were not punished made the original process unfair.

However, Tagliabue made it clear he did not absolve the New Orleans franchise in general, or the players in particular.

"In vacating the players' suspensions I do not in any degree condone their behaviour," Tagliabue wrote.

"I do not approve any of the misconduct in which Commissioner Goodell found the players to have engaged, though I do not find Fujita's conduct equivalent to the other players.

"But each player made choices that do not reflect favourably on him.

"Moreover, there is evidence in the record that suggests that Commissioner Goodell could have disciplined a greater number of Saints' players for the events that occurred here.

"This sad chapter in the otherwise praiseworthy history of the New Orleans Saints casts no executive, coach or player in a favourable light."

The bounty case deals with allegations of a pay-for-performance program run from 2009 to 2011 by the New Orleans Saints, which involved, among other things, incentive payments for injuring opposition players.

The case was particularly focused on allegations a bounty was put on then-Minnesota Vikings quarter-back Brett Favre, to injure him during the NFC Championship game of the 2009 season.

Tagliabue's decision will make the most difference for Vilma, as the Saints linebacker, who was alleged to have been a ringleader of the bounty program, had been suspended for the entire 2012 season, although the 30-year-old has been playing since his ban was set aside to await the appeal.

Despite the players having their bans overturned, Tagliabue made it clear no appeals would be accepted from New Orleans coaching and administrative staff.

As part of Goodell's penalties to Saints staff, New Orleans head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 NFL season and Tagliabue backed those decisions.

"Commissioner Goodell's findings and the resulting suspensions of these Saints’ personnel are final and no longer subject to appeal," Tagliabue wrote.

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