As expected, Tuesday afternoon, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued his decision related to the discipline of current and former Saints players arising out of their alleged involvement in a pay-to-injure bounty program. Tagliabue was appointed hearing officer by Commission Rodger Goodell who stepped aside after coming under fire by the NFLPA and individual players questioning his ability to render a fair and impartial decision.
Tagliabue has overturned the suspensions of Will Smith, Johnathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita.
NFLPA Executive Director, DeMaurice Smith said, “I am happy for our men and their families. I am equally happy for the members of a Union that simply fights for what we believe is right.”
Highlighting the issue of fairness and due process, Tagliabue said “this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization” and therefore he was vacating all discipline to be imposed on the players.
From the beginning the union had highlighted problems with the way the league conducted its investigation. In its statement following Tagliabue’s decision, the NFLPA said,
“We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result. We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program.
Vacating all discipline affirms the players’ unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged “intent-to-injure” were utterly and completely false.“
The league issued the following statement via twitter:
“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 to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.”
Goodell’s initial disciplinary decision, which was also overturned by the appeals panel, suspended Will Smith (4-games), Johnathan Vilma (entire season), Anthony Hargrove (8-games), and Scott Fujita (4-games). The panel had directed Goodell to refine the parameters of the suspensions and to clarify why discipline was being imposed. He met with the individual players and then re-issued 28 of the 31 games he previously imposed. The players appealed the decision after which Goodell stepped aside and appointed Tagliabue.
Vilma’s attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said his client plans to pursue a defamation lawsuit. “Jonathan intends to continue to pursue the defamation lawsuit in order to reclaim his reputation. We’re pleased that the unjust penalties have been overturned, but this is only one piece in remedying the situation for Jonathan.”