Sunday, September 9, 2012

Bountygate suspensions overturned for NFL players

The four NFL players who were suspended for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints Bountygate incident have had their appeals granted and are now free to play. A three-person arbitration panel overturned their suspensions on Sept. 7 and they can rejoin their teams immediately. The players are Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, and Scott Fujita. However, NFL.com reports that the players could still face suspensions if league commissioner Roger Goodell can prove they intended to injure fellow players.

The Saints were accused of utilizing a system which saw players paid a cash reward if they knocked opponents out of games or injured them. The players and club deny the charges, but Goodell still handed out the suspensions several months ago. While the four players are allowed to return to their respective teams, New Orleans coach Sean Payton and his assistant Joe Vitt are still banned as is former Saints’ assistant Gregg Williams. Payton has been kicked out for the entire 2012/13 season while Vitt received a six-game suspension and Mickey Loomis, the club’s general manager, was handed eight games.

The players also received varying sentences. Vilma, a linebacker with the Saints, was banned for the whole 2012 campaign and his teammate defensive end Will Smith got four games. Anthony Hargrove, who’s now a free agent, received eight and linebacker Scott Fujita, now a member of the Cleveland Browns, was hit with a three-game suspension. Hargrove and Fujita played with the Saints between 2009 and 2011 when the bounty program was allegedly in effect. Gregg Williams was the team’s defensive coordinator at the time
Goodell must still decide what type of punishment to hand out to the players if the finds they violated the NFL’s pay-for-performance rule, but until then they’re allowed to keep playing. The arbitration panel overturned the suspensions because it didn’t know if the commissioner levied them for detrimental conduct or if the punishment was for violating the agreement of the salary cap because it’s believed that money changed hands.,

The players and the NFLPA (NFL Players Association) argued that Goodell was abusing his power when he handed down the suspensions and he didn’t follow proper procedures. The NFL held an investigation into the alleged payment of cash bonuses to players who injure opponents with tackles and found that it did in fact exist. The players and union filed lawsuits asking for the suspensions to be thrown out. Even if Goodell does decide to re-suspend the players, it won’t be done until after week one of the league.

The NFLPA said it was happy with the decision and the organization will continue to fight for the rights of all its players. However, while it may be seen as protecting the rights of the accused, the players who were injured during the alleged bounty scheme may see things in a different light as their rights apparently weren’t protected.
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