NFL upholds a slightly altered version of players’ suspensions in bounty case
"The discipline being imposed today is entirely based on my finding that the players engaged in conduct detrimental,” stated Roger Goodell, “and in no way based on any issue of undisclosed payments in violation of the salary cap.”
The NFL claimed that the suspended players were involved in a bounty pool run by New Orleans Saints’ former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams that offered players cash rewards for critical hits injuring rivals.
While the New Orleans Saints players admitted to the existence of a pool, they denied the purpose NFL claimed it served.
The players had the NFL’s suspensions temporarily overturned by a three-panel jury last month. The court ruled Roger Goodell was overstepping his jurisdiction handing suspensions to players on the basis of conduct detrimental (which lands under the NFL’s Collective Bargain Agreement), and acting as an arbitrator on whether the cash bonuses resulted in salary cap violations (which should have been ruled by an unbiased arbitrator).
"The four disciplined players either were involved in specific bounties on an opposing player, contributed substantially to the bounty program,” said Roger Goodell, “engaged in payments that violated league rules or were untruthful when the program was initially investigated."
According to the NFL’s slightly changed verdict, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita had his suspension cut back from three games to just one. Free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove had his suspension reduced from eight games to seven games. However, Antony Hargrove will only serve suspension for two further games after missing the last five games this season.
The NFL took no reduction to the suspensions of New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who will still be suspended for four games and the complete season respectively. However, Jonathan Vilma, who due to an offseason knee surgery has been on the New Orleans Saints’ unable to perform list for the initial six games of the season, will receive his salary from those games.
Only Scott Fuijita and Will Smith have played games with their teams so far this season.
The NFL Players Association, which has supported the players throughout the process and even provided them with its legal representation deeply criticized the NFL’s decision. The NFLPA argued that the NFL compromised the “fair due process, transparency and impartiality” of the legal procedure when handing out the suspensions and is now refusing to acknowledge its “mistake.”
"For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement,” the NFLPA released in a statement, “and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever."
Now that the NFL has announced its decision, the players can appeal their case with Roger Goodell which can further delay the application of the suspensions. The players could also request the federal Judge in New Orleans to reassess their appeal for an injunction parrying the suspensions.
“We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players' rights with vigilance,” stated the NFLPA.