Commissioner Goodell Steps Aside in Bounty Hearings, Tagliabue Appointed

Commissioner Roger Goodell today notified the NFL Players Association and the four players who have appealed their suspensions in the Saints bounty matter that he has appointed former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue as the hearing officer to decide the appeals and bring the matter to a prompt and fair conclusion.

Executive Director of the NFLPA DeMaurice Smith said via Twitter, “I have been in touch with Roger. He formally notified me that he will recuse himself. Paul Tagliabue will step in.”

The NFL, in a statement, said that Commissioner Goodell consulted with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith in several conversations before deciding to appoint another hearing officer for this case.

“I have held two hearings to date,” Commissioner Goodell said, “and have modified the discipline in several respects based on my recent meetings with the players. To bring this matter to a prompt and fair conclusion, I have appointed former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to serve as the hearing officer for the upcoming appeals. Paul Tagliabue is a genuine football authority whose tenure as commissioner was marked by his thorough and judicious approach to all matters. He has many years of experience in NFL collective bargaining matters and an impeccable reputation for integrity.”

The NFLPA filed a response on Thursday in support of its motion to vacate the suspensions imposed by Goodell on four current and former New Orleans Saints players.  The NFLPA’s filing directly responded to the filing by the NFL on Wednesday of its opposition to the motion to vacate.  The NFLPA and the players argued that Goodell has demonstrated partiality in the case, making him an inappropriate arbitrator under the rules of arbitration law required by the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Also in the filings the NFLPA referred to an ESPN segment from 1996 entitled “Smash for Cash” which detailed former NFL player funded incentive pools for legitimate plays.  The segment included Reggie White talking about paying $500 for “big hits” on opposing players.  At the end of the segment, an NFL spokesperson is quoted as saying that “the program is within the rules as long as players use their own monies, the amounts are not exorbitant and the payments are not for illegal hits.”

The hearings in front of Tagliabue for Will Smith (4-games), Johnathan Vilma (entire season), Anthony Hargrove (8-games), and Scott Fujita (4-games) are scheduled to be held on October 30.  The location of the hearings has not been determined.

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