NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the multi-game suspensions of four players it says had a role in an alleged bounty program the league says the Saints ran for three years.
Current Saints defensive end Will Smith, along with former linebacker Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland) and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with Green Bay) are now set to serve their suspensions beginning the opening week of the 2012 season.
Additionally, linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s season-long suspension would begin immediately.
Hargrove received an eight-game suspension, Smith a four-game one and Fujita a three-game suspension.
Goodell cited as reasoning for not reducing the penalties the fact that the players didn’t offer evidence disproving the NFL’s findings in a three-year investigation.
In a letter to the players, Goodell said, ““Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions. Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process …”
After the appeals ruling Tuesday, Vilma consolidated lawsuits against Goodell and the NFL.
On May 17, he sued Goodell for defamation. And after filing a notice last week that he would submit an injunction to Judge Helen G. Berrigan, he sued the NFL on Saturday for not ruling on the appeals in a timely manner.
The players all went through the process of the appeals nearly two weeks ago. However, early in the June 18 hearing, Vilma walked out as directed by his lawyer. At the time, Vilma called the hearings a “sham.”
Shortly after the NFL’s release, the NFL Players Association responded, saying the group was concerned “about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement.”
The NFLPA added, “Moreover, the Commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator.
“The NFLPA has never and will never condone dangerous or reckless conduct in football and to date, nothing the League has provided proves these players were participants in a pay-to-injure program. We will continue to pursue all options.”
Of the four players suspended, Vilma has been the most vocal.
Vilma’s year-long suspension was for offering rewards of $10,000 each for injuring then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre, according to the NFL.
In turn, Goodell denied in his letter to the players involved that he came to his conclusion using “insufficient evidence.” He said he gave the players ever opportunity to have their side heard but their lawyers
“Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,’ your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested),” Goodell wrote in his letter to the players.
“You elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal.”
The players questioned Goodell’s authority in levying suspensions and hearing appeals. However, the players gave Goodell that power when the new CBA was ratified in July 2011.
Goodell said he could reduce the suspensions should he find more information, telling the players he’s willing to hear their “side of the story.”
Saints coach Sean Payton already is serving a year-long suspension while acting head coach Joe Vitt will begin a six-game suspension and general manager Mickey Loomis an eight-game suspension beginning in Week 1 of the season.
Additionally, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely from the NFL.