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The NFL’s Bounty-Related Suspensions Of Four Saints Players Have Been Overturned. Here’s What You Need To Know.
Score one for the New Orleans Saints, and anyone who’s of the belief that Roger Goodell’s punishment of the players alleged to be involved in the Saints’ reported bounty scheme were draconian: those suspensions were overturned today, effective immediately. The decision came down from a collective bargaining agreement panel. The NFL released a statement saying the following:
“Consistent with the panel’s decision, Commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league’s pay-for-performance/bounty rule. Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend.”
A couple important things to note here: for one, this decision is only about players. Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt: they’re still suspended. And the players – Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith, and Scott Fujita – could be too, eventually. That would only happen, though, if the league is able to prove intent to injure opponents on the players’ part with evidence more convincing than a performance pool designed to provide financial incentive for big plays.
But make no mistake: this is a significant development. Many were skeptical of the NFL’s case, and no less than the judge in Vilma’s defamation suit against Goodell said she believed the commissioner acted improperly in handing out the punishments he did. For anyone who believes that Goodell’s attitude toward disciplining players smacks of vigilantism – and there are plenty of people like that, both Saints fans and not – this decision is a big victory.
That’s to say nothing of football implications. Per the panel’s decision, these guys can play right away. Smith’s return immediately improves the Saints’ front four. And a couple teams’ linebacking corps got a boost: suddenly, the Saints have Vilma and the Browns have Fujita. Hargrove is currently without a team but with no eight-game suspension hanging over his head, he has to look a lot more attractive to any team that might need defensive line help of their own, no?
Of course, this process isn’t over: as the NFL’s own statement said, Goodell is going to get right back to work “mak[ing a] determination of… discipline.” If he can find any way to get these guys suspended, he’s going to do it. But for now, he’s got nothing, and the very fact that he has to go back and provide more evidence than he thought he needed is a sign that at least some of his power – that power of which his use generated more and more questions – might be eroding. And if Goodell and the NFL powers that be are unhappy about it, the players he suspended are… somewhat less so:
Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin
— Jonathan Vilma (@JonVilma51) September 7, 2012
Getty photo, by Jonathan Ferrey