Breaking: Paul Tagliabue lifts all Saints player suspensions
Four players that played for the New Orleans Saints had been previously suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell for their roles in the Saints pay-for-injury scandal led by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Now after fighting for a fair and open appeal, current Saints Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and former Saints Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita will not miss any games at all.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Goodell’s predecessor who was assigned to rule on the player suspensions, vacated all player suspensions related to New Orleans’ bounty system today. Goodell had initially suspended Vilma for the entire 2012 season, while Smith was suspended four games, Hargrove eight games, and Fujita three games. Hargrove and Fujita successfully fought their rulings to lower their suspensions to two games and one game, respectively.
League spokesman Greg Aiello released this statement from Tagliabue.
“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects … 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 ramifications of Tagliabue’s decisions are enormous. Beyond the fact that he concurred with Goodell’s collected evidence, Tagliabue essentially said that the evidence was not enough to warrant more than fines. The greater part of the blame in Tagliabue’s eyes was rooted in the coaches and organization. Head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the 2012 season and former defensive coordinator and bounty ringleader Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely. General manager Mickey Loomis was suspended eight games, and assistant coach Joe Vitt was suspended six games.
The league could potentially fight back against Tagliabue’s ruling, as Goodell has done everything in his power since succeeding Tagliabue in 2006 to make player safety the utmost priority. But in the wake of Kansas City’s Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide two weeks ago and Dallas’ Josh Brent’s intoxicated manslaughter of temmate Jerry Brown this past weekend, the league doesn’t need another issue on its plate at this point in time.
Mike Garofalo of USA Today also reported that for the first time today, the players’ attorneys were allowed to review every document that Goodell and the league had collected throughout the bounty probe. The documents totaled almost 50,000 pages.
For the Saints organization, and for NFL fans everywhere, a collective sigh can now be issued that the bounty investigation is (hopefully) done with for good.