Roger Goodell Upholds Jonathan Vilma’s Suspension, Reduces 2 Others

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell upheld the season-long suspension of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma while reducing the punishment of two others who were a part of the alleged bounty pay-for-injury program.

Goodell’s decision is a blow to Vilma, who has maintained his innocence in the case, saying he never put up cash as a bounty over a player’s head. Vilma has sued Goodell for defamation of character and has been the most vocal in challenging the commissioner’s authority.

Meanwhile, Goodell reduced Scott Fujita’s three-game suspension from three games to one while defensive end and Anthony Hargrove’s eight-game penalty was cut to seven.

The defensive end Will Smith’s suspension will remain the same.

Vilma is on the Saints’ physically unable to perform list and will not be eligible to play this year but can keep the money he has been paid for his six weeks on the PUP list.

The NFL Players Association was not happy with Goodell’s decision.

“For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever,” the statement said. “The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake.”

The four players have 72 hours to begin the appeals process. Should they choose to do that, the understanding is they would be allowed to play until the appeals process is completed.

“We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance,” the NFLPA said in its statement.

Goodell appoints the person who will hear the appeal and last time chose to hear it himself.

With Goodell’s decision Tuesday, Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns), Hargrove (free agent) and Smith (Saints) get a total of $1,042,649 back in salary, according to ESPN.com.

The players had been suspended as a result of a bounty pool that league investigators have said the Saints ran from 2009-11, but the bans had been vacated on technical, jurisdictional grounds by an appeals panel operating within the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement. That decision had led to the re-instatement of the four players and has forced Goodell to begin the disciplinary process for the players over again.

In addition to fighting their previous suspensions through procedures called for by the NFL’s labor agreement, the four players also have sued in federal court in New Orleans. Vilma has his own attorneys, while the NFLPA has represented the other three. Only Vilma has sued for defamation. The other federal claims, made by all four players, generally state that Goodell violated labor law by failing to act as an impartial arbitrator. They also asked the judge to bar the commissioner from punishing the players in the bounty matter.

Vilma’s lawyer, Peter Ginsberg, issued a statement in which he said Goodell’s decision was “not justice, nor just.

“The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to appease an Appeals Panel decision ordering the Commissioner to pay attention to his authority under the CBA,” Ginsberg said.

Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo have provided the NFL with signed declarations in which they stated they observed Vilma offering what they believed were $10,000 rewards for knocking then-Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and then-Minnesota quarterback Brett Favreout of 2009-10 playoff games.

Vilma denied to Goodell that he put a $10,000 bounty on Favre and provided statements from teammates. But Goodell stated Tuesday that he does not believe Vilma or his teammates.

In an attempt to refute testimony that he offered $10,000 to any teammate that knocked Favre out of the NFC Championship Game, Vilma told Goodell that he has never had a New Orleans-based bank account from which he could have withdrawn the funds, a source told ESPN.

Vilma provided bank statements from January 2010 in order to prove that he never withdrew $10,000 from any of his personal accounts, the source told Werder. According to the source, Vilma argued that he had no access to the money because the Saints paid him via direct deposit and he pays using his credit cards during the season.

“Consistent with the Commissioner’s disregard of the evidence, he did not even request to see the bank records showing this fact,” Ginsberg said in a statement.

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