The commissioner has spoken, once again. As expected, his voice was heard clearly across the NFL world. The NFL announced on Wednesday morning that four current and former Saints players have been suspended for their roles in the Saints bounty system. Jonathan Vilma has been banned for the entire 2012 season while defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove was given an eight-game suspension, defensive end Will Smith a four-game suspension, and linebacker Scott Fujita a three-game ban.
Fujita is now with the Browns and Hargrove is with the Packers. While many believe Gregg Williams should shoulder most — if not all — of the blame for running a bounty system, Goodell and company clearly do not agree. Vilma and Sean Payton will both miss all of 2012, and the NFL has suspended current and former Saints players, coaches, and officials a total of 61 regular-season games since the offseason began.
Vilma, who currently has a picture of the Sports Illustrated bounty scandal cover as his Twitter avatar, was believed to be far more than just a participant in the program. He once reportedly placed $10,000 on a locker room table and told his teammates it would go to anyone who could knock Brett Favre out of a 2010 playoff game. As we saw from Favre’s ankle injury a couple of seasons ago, the cash may have inspired his teammates.
“No bounty program can exist without active player participation,” Goodell said in statement announcing the penalties. “The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules.”
As for the evidence, Hargrove reportedly submitted a signed statement to the league admitting he actively participated in the bounty program and that he obstructed the league’s investigation in 2010. The league says Fujita and Smith both not only participated in but helped fund the program. Vilma, they say, pledged the aforementioned $10,000 to any player who knocked Favre out in 2010, but had also made the exact same pledge against Kurt Warner during the playoffs the previous season.
As expected, most of the reaction on Twitter and other forms of social media has been that the punishments are too harsh. In particular for Vilma, whose suspension is easily one of the harshest punishments a player has faced in NFL history. If nothing else, Goodell has been consistent in maintaining that the matter is being taken very seriously.
The next step will likely be a massive legal battle between the NFL Players Association and the league. All of the suspensions are without pay, and all four players have decided to appeal.
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