A few minutes ago, head NFL PR man Greg Aiello sent out a series of tweets in reference to Paul Tagliabue’s decision on the Saints’ bounty scandal appeals. You might remember that Roger Goodell selected Tagliabue, the man who once chose Goodell to succeed him as commissioner of the NFL, to hear the appeal on the Saints’ bounty case. Most saw this as a conflict of interest and were particularly peeved because Goodell had just recently overturned the overturning of the player suspensions. Therefore, it was expected that Tagliabue would simply side with Goodell, dictator alongside dictator.
Not so fast. (via Greg Aiello):
“Tagliabue affirms factual findings of Commissioner Goodell…concludes Hargrove, Smith, Vilma ‘engaged in conduct detrimental’ and vacates all player discipline. ‘Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects…My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.
‘Having reviewed the testimony very carefully, including documentary evidence that is at the center of the conflict, and having assessed the credibility of the four central witnesses on these matters, I find there is more than enough evidence to support Commissioner Goodell’s findings that Mr. Vilma offered such a bounty (on Brett Favre).'”
Aiello then issued a statement in response to Tagliabue’s findings on behalf of the NFL:
“We respect Mr. Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters. This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner Goodell, two CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel, and Mr. Tagliabue as Commissioner Goodell’s designated appeals officer. The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter.”
For Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma, this means they can play football penalty-free for the rest of their careers (though Vilma was already playing while the suspension was being appealed). One thing that hasn’t been clarified is what happens with lost game checks, though we presume all the players will collect because all discipline (fines included) was vacated. And we must admit that it’s a tad confusing how Tagliabue could agree with Goodell’s factual findings yet throw out the discipline. Still, this feels like a victory for the players.
But in the larger scheme of things, Tagliabue going against Goodell is nothing less than a shock. Finally, it appears, we can put this all behind us. Just not before the NFL could publicly announce their sour grapes, acknowledging the “due process” in Goodell’s dictator-ing and blasting the Saints and its players for the bounty program.