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Ex-commissioner Tagliabue vacates suspensions

by AFP

NEW YORK (AFP) –

Former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue, pictured on 11 September 2008

Former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue, pictured on 11 September 2008, overturned the suspensions Tuesday of four National Football League players involved in a bounty scheme scandal.

Former commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions Tuesday of four National Football League players involved in a bounty scheme scandal.

Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Scott Fujita were all suspended by current commissioner Roger Goodell seven months ago for their roles in the bounty programme that saw players given financial rewards for injuring opponents from 2009-2011.

Vilma had been suspended for the entire 2012 season, while Hargrove was originally given an eight-game penalty. Smith was banned for four games and Fujita was slapped with a three-game suspension.

Each of the four players were permitted to play regular season games while the appeals process was underway.

Tagliabue affirmed the league’s findings in the investigation, the results of which were first released in March. But he also ruled that the Saints’ organization deserved more of the blame than the the players.

“Unlike (the) Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects,” Tagliabue said.

“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.”

The NFL said it “respected” Tagliabue’s ruling and that a strong message had been sent.

“We respect Mr Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters,” the NFL said in a statement.

“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.”

Tagliabue interviewed the four players, as well as other witnesses, including members of the Saints’ staff at the time.

Saints head coach Sean Payton was slapped with a season-long ban and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely for his part in the programme.

Saints general manager Mickey Loomis was suspended without pay for the first eight 2012 games and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was suspended without pay for the first six games. Vitt was named the Saints’ interim head coach in Payton’s absence for the 2012 season.

The Saints were also fined $500,000 and forfeited second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.

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