NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has appointed former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue to hear the appeals of the four players suspended in connection with the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal.
Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove, as well as the players’ union were notified by Goodell Friday about his decision to allow Tagliabue to be the hearing officer. By appointing Tagliabue, Goodell felt he would “decide the appeals and bring the matter to a prompt and fair conclusion.”
Oct. 30 is the scheduled date for the second set of appeals to be heard. This date was set after the four players and the union asked Goodell to recuse himself because they felt he could not rule fairly.
After Goodell’s decision Friday, Vilma’s attorney, Peter Ginsberg spoke with ESPN’s Ed Werder.
“The commissioner’s decision today makes it clear to us that he’s finally been convinced there is no way he could ever have been a fair and neutral arbitrator,” Ginsberg said. “Having said that, we need time to evaluate whether Commissioner Tagliabue – as much as we respect the work he did for the NFL – is an appropriate replacement given the fact Mr. Tagliabue works for the same law firm representing Mr. Goodell. We are also concerned the commissioner failed to follow CBA procedures regarding consulting with the union before making an appointment of this sort.”
Vilma, who was initially suspended for the 2012 season, appealed the ruling and is scheduled to play Sunday as the Saints take on the Tampa Buccaneers.
Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, was banned three games, which was reduced to one. Smith was handed down a four game suspension. Hargrove, now a free agent, suspension was reduced from eight games to seven.
Goodell plans to let Tagliabue review the evidence and reach a fair conclusion on the current suspensions.
“I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue’s decisions,” Goodell said.
For Goodell, picking Tagliabue as the hearing off was in the best interest of the NFL and players. Tagliabue who is a lawyer, served as NFL commissioner from 1989- 2006.
“Paul Tagliabue is a genuine football authority whose tenure as commissioner was marked by his thorough and judicious approach to all matters,” Goodell said. “He has many years of experience in NFL collective bargaining matters and an impeccable reputation for integrity.”
Goodell conferred with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith about his decision to appoint Tagliabue. The new collective bargaining agreement reached last year gave Goodell exclusive authority to hear appeals of discipline for conduct detrimental or to appoint someone to hear and decide an appeal.
“To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter, nor has he been any part of the process,” Goodell said. “Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings.”
In May, Goodell handed down his first suspensions, but the four players appealed the suspensions and they were rejected by Goodell and took effect in July. The suspensions were later vacated after a three-member appeals panel instructed Goodell to begin the disciplinary process over again. They also told him to clarify his reason for the suspensions given to the players.
Goodell issued the revised suspensions last week and the players immediately filed an appealed. As of right now none of the suspensions are in effect because they were within the structure of the NFL’s labor agreement.
The players have accused Goodell of violating their due process rights and have asked for U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan to throw out Goodell’s disciplinary rulings.
In a recent court filing, the union said: “It is only a neutral (arbitrator) of unquestioned integrity who can restore public confidence in this process and mitigate the damage which the NFL’s handling of `bounty-gate’ has inflicted upon the game.”
Tagliabue has a heavy burden place in front him as the four players and NFL look to him for vindication to the most popular sport in America.