In what is hopefully the final page of an ugly chapter in New Orleans Saints history, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell handed down suspensions to four players involved in the now infamous bountygate scandal.
Middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma received the worst of the commissioner's wrath, being suspended for the entire 2012 season. Three other current and former Saints were also suspended. Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, will miss the first eight games of the 2012 season; Saints defensive end Will Smith will be out for the first four games; and current Browns linebacker Scott Fujita will miss three games. All players will be suspended without pay.
22-27 players were originally under investigation for participating in a bounty system that was allegedly established by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. But on the topic of why these specific four players were suspended, Goodell said in a statement:
"In assessing player discipline, I focused on players who were in leadership positions at the Saints; contributed a particularly large sum of money toward the program; specifically contributed to a bounty on an opposing player; demonstrated a clear intent to participate in a program that potentially injured opposing players; sought rewards for doing so; and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation." Goodell also said that that while many players were under investigation, "the players disciplined participated at a different and more significant level."
According to the NFL findings, Fujita, Smith and Vilma were all reported to have pledged significant amounts of money to the bounty program. Though there have been no specific dollar amounts in regards to Fujita and Smith, Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to any player who knocked the Arizona Cardinals' Kurt Warner, or the Minnesota Vikings' Brett Favre, out of playoff games in 2009.
Hargrove however, "actively obstructed the league's 2010 investigation into the program by being untruthful to investigators." "Actively participated in the program while a member of the Saints," and "Submitted a signed declaration to the league that established not only the existence of the program at the Saints, but also that he knew about and participated in it."
These suspensions add on to an already tumultuous off season for the Saints. In March, Goodell suspended defensive assistant Joe Vitt for six games, GM Mickey Loomis for 8 games, head coach Sean Payton was banned for the entire 2012 season, and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely. Also, in April Loomis was accused of eavesdropping in on opposing teams' gametime communications. Vilma and Payton's suspensions will be lifted after the 2013 Super Bowl, at that same time, Williams will meet with the commissioner to determine whether or not his ban will be lifted.
All four players plan to appeal their suspensions, according to an NFL source.
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