The NFL has upheld the suspensions of four players -- Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith and Jonathan Vilma -- for their alleged roles in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty program, the league announced Tuesday.
Vilma has been suspended for the entire season, Hargrove -- now with Green Bay -- for eight games, Smith for four games, and Fujita -- now with Cleveland -- for three games. All four players had appealed their suspensions to Commissioner Roger Goodell, who had found that they participated in a program that rewarded Saints players for injuring opponents.
In his ruling, Goodell said that he did not take his initial decision lightly and pointed out that players refused to participate fully in the appeal process. Vilma and his attorney walked out of the hearing early and the other three players, who were represented by NFL Players Assn. attorneys, sat through the hearing to observe the NFL’s presentation of evidence but did not present any evidence or witnesses of their own, and did not question the NFL investigators.
“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,” Goodell wrote. “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. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore” the collective bargaining agreement.
But Goodell also informed the players that they were still welcome to meet with him and that he retains “the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion.”
The NFLPA said it would continue to pursue all options in the matter.
“The players are disappointed with the League’s conduct during this process,” the NFLPA said in a statement. “We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement.
“Moreover, the Commissioner took actions during this process that rendered it impossible for him to be an impartial arbitrator.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.