Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

07 Sep 2012

Saints Win Appeal, Bounty Suspensions Lifted

Bounty suspensions for Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita, and Will Smith by Roger Goodell were overturned by a three-member appeals panel.

"Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin," Vilma tweeted Friday afternoon.

I think that's all that really needs to be said.

Posted by: Rivers McCown on 07 Sep 2012

30 comments, Last at 12 Sep 2012, 1:01pm by Eddo


by merlinofchaos :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:10pm

The articles I've read on this are really conflicting.

It *sounds* like it's really just a "Yo, Roger, you need to give more information, and until then we're lifting the suspension." But it really suggests that he'll just turn around, provide the required information, and re-suspend.

by Guido Merkens :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:13pm

And that's fine. But I think it's important to establish that he has to actually have evidence before suspending people. From a fan's perspective, things had started to look pretty arbitrary.

by RC (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:22pm

Its tough to provide information when the players lawyers/the players/etc refused to participate in the original hearings.

by Anonymous434343 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:35pm

If there is compelling evidence, the players cooperation should not be needed to present it. Saying there is no evidence to present because the players being targeted won't provide it, is the same thing as saying there is no evidence at all.

by bhauck :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 6:20pm

RC, let's say I notify you that I am trying you for high treason against the desk I am currently sitting at. Do you show up to the scheduled hearing and argue your case, or do you tell me "You have no right to try me, and I will not participate in this farce?" Showing up only lends legitimacy to an illegitimate process, so you don't show up to things you're arguing aren't legitimate. Legitimate (once more for good measure).

by tuluse :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 6:35pm

If my boss tells me that he's having a hearing about suspending me without pay, you can be sure I'm going to show up.

by bhauck :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 11:05pm

If you have a contract that says your boss can't suspend you without the approval of an independent arbitrator, no, you should not go to a hearing without an independent arbitrator. The players argued they had that right, Gooddell argued they didn't. You can agree with Gooddell while still understanding why the players didn't go.

by andrew :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:25pm

I am feeling sorry for the punching bag in Roger Goodell's office.

by RPW (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:35pm

I just wonder how the players who were allegedly targeted for injury feel about the NFLPA acting on behalf of the suspended players. Would Drew Brees tweet the same satisfaction over the appeal if he had been a target while Williams was coaching in Washington?

by Anonymous24532 (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:37pm

Plenty of the "targets" have been asked about their feelings on the subject. My recollection is that the vast majority of them think "well, duh. Of course they're trying to hurt me."

by Jerry :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 7:24pm

I think that players expect the NFLPA to advocate for its members, whether they're teammates or rivals.

by Marko :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 9:52pm

I'm sure RCW would agree with that, but that misses his point. His point is that the NFLPA also should protect the rights/health of the victims of the alleged bounty scheme (i.e., the players who the Saints' players purportedly tried to injure via cheap shots). This seeming conflict of interest was raised by the judge who was hearing the players' request for a TRO (which is now moot because of the ruling by the appeals panel). She asked the NFLPA's attorney a few days ago to explain why he didn't have a conflict of interest. I don't know if or how he responded.

by Jerry :: Sat, 09/08/2012 - 1:59am

Unless/until the membership of the Players Association tells the leadership that they don't want to see players called for certain fouls defended, it the NFLPA's job to defend them without trying to adjudicate the case themselves. It's the same way we expect the MLBPA to advocate for both players who've been suspended after a bean ball, regardless of who's at fault.

by andrew :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:40pm

I think one of Goodell's main reasons for his extreme judgements was fearing litigation from injured players.

Well, now, the players were the ones who got this overturned. If sued he can go, "well, I tried", and indicate the players association as the culpable party.

Problem solved...

by andrew :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 6:16pm

duplicate post

by justanothersteve :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 5:43pm

As much as I loath Twitter, Vilma's tweet has just made him one of my favorite players.

by TomKelso :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 6:36pm

Nice to get confirmed that the rule of law is not something you can claim is bargained away...

Now waiting for all the aghast talk radio clods who will complain that this rewards the "bad element" that Grand High Inquisitor Goodell was supposedly curtailing.

by TMoney (not verified) :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 6:56pm

Michael McCann as always with nice cursory legal analysis of what this means.


by Noah Arkadia :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 10:16pm

It's nice, but the cornerstone of his analysis is that the players have backed Goodell into a corner because reissuing the suspensions will lengthen the process and "The last thing Goodell probably wants is to deal with more litigation and hearings".

That's it? Sure, more litigation and hearings would be an inconvenience, but that's not going to stop Goodell: "Oh, you know what, those players are a pain, lets give 'em this one, shall we?"

Not going to happen.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 7:46pm

I was all set for some outrage that they would let them get off scott free after what they did, but what really happened is actually quite reasonable. The panel found that Gooddell didn't have the authority to impose the punishment, rather some other guy with the badass title of Special Master has that authority. So now Goodell presents the evidence to the Master and the Master puts the punishment back on. Win-win; the bad guys still get punished, and the other bad guy gets chastised for his egomania.

by Joseph :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 10:33pm

I actually think that they eventually will get suspended; BUT
1) Hargrove is prob. already done. His suspension will be symbolic.
2) I though I read somewhere an article on Fujita where he gave the indication that this is his last year. If, because of legal delays, the suspension gets pushed into the next year, his will be symbolic as well. (If I were a player involved, that would be my strategy--delay until I'm done with my career.)
3) Vilma is getting close to the end as well--that's why they signed Lofton to replace him. Even if his suspension is pushed back to next year, he might not make an NFL team in 2013 (he is still rehabbing an injury at this point).
4) Will Smith's is for 4 games. Even if it is upheld, his suspension is the only one whose loss will hurt his team. He is also getting close to the end, although he has the most gas left in the tank.
In summary, I think the 4 players will eventually get most or all of their original suspensions, but Smith might be the only one who actually loses game checks. The fact that the NFL is allowing them to play until everything gets cleared up soon is victory enough. Maybe Goodell will at least learn his lesson and be upfront with the players BEFORE he plays judge and jury in front of the media.

by BaronFoobarstein :: Fri, 09/07/2012 - 11:42pm

I got the impression that this is the sort of thing that'll take a week not a season so the delay will get them week 1 but then take effect. I admit that I don't have a whole lot of basis for that so could be way off.

Agreed about Goodell learning his lesson, but I'm pessimistic there. I suspect the lesson he learns is how to make it look like he's being fair and following good procedure while actually presenting the kind of punishment where it's in the player's interest just to play along rather than fight it.

by Joseph :: Sat, 09/08/2012 - 1:58pm

Could be true--I just think that the players will try any and every tactic possible to delay the suspensions, for the reasons I outlined above. With Fujita and Will Smith, I could see them maybe taking their suspensions if they tweak an ankle/hamstring or have another minor injury which would keep them inactive for a couple of games anyway.
Personally (as a Saints fan), I feel there are more players who are guilty/participants, and Goodell decided to make an example of these. That's where he first went wrong. Secondly, he went through the media. I mean, let's face it, how many times has Goodell announced players' suspensions in a PRESS CONFERENCE??!! Third, if he is going to serve as judge and jury, he ought to do what you said. He would not be as hated in NOLA if he looked like he were being fair. I think Fujita and Smith might have accepted theirs had Goodell not come off looking like a tyrant.

by rfh1001 :: Sat, 09/08/2012 - 5:34am

Basically, all sport everywhere depends on agreement to standards of judgement (from referees to league decisions) which do not match up to civil/criminal law standards. Of course, there are times you want to bring in the outside legal process, but every time you do, pretty much, it becomes clear that two different standards of procedure are conflicting.

I am not criticising this fact, or bemoaning it, or praising it, but I think it is an essential part of the nature of sport. Once parties move outside the internal consensus and try to bring in the Law with a capital L, it becomes clear that sport and law have different levels of proof, different presumptions, different conceptions of acceptable behaviour and [many others].

You can pick through various contradictions in the above, and qualifications, but that is my point. It's a mess. Ultimately I am against dictatorial lack of transparency. I bet the Saints had a Bounty System. I bet others did too. Sometimes it is necessary to make an example of the people who are most egregious.

(I am a Saints fan.)

by Noah Arkadia :: Sat, 09/08/2012 - 12:23pm

Well said, I agree with every word. Except the words "I am a Saints fan".

Not that I disagree with that, either.

FO posters are a peacock. You got to let us fly!

by evenchunkiermonkey :: Sun, 09/09/2012 - 6:09am

So Goodell will now reissue the suspensions, the players re-appeal, an independent arbitrator hears the appeal and the suspensions likely stay in place with a chance of the longer ones being reduced.

At least the players get a precedent set for someone other than Goodell handling the appeal process.

by Orange-84 :: Sun, 09/09/2012 - 9:20pm

It seems odd to me that the NFL would hide evidence of such a controversial subject but they have yet to share it. Furthermore, it seems odd that Goodell would be so ambiguous in placing his disciplines under the various policies. (salary cap vs. conduct detrimental)

I think Goodell might have gotten an inch and reached for a mile. In the process, he made national villains of certain figures - especially Vilma. Doing so made this a legal matter as he has impacted the ability of these players to continue their career by negatively affecting affecting their credibility amongset their peers. None of the supposed victims has voiced any level of concern or disappointment that the NFLPA is protecting these players, either. (I'd be happy to read an article in which they do if anyone has a link.)

It looks like a tough spot to be in for Roger Goodell. Nobody has seen any evidence that will satisfy a court but he has made this a legally prosecutable matter. What should he do next? (You know he wants to throw the book at them again.)

by RC (not verified) :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 9:53am

By "hide evidence" you mean "produce a 550 page document at the hearing the players accused refused to show up at" right?

by GlennW :: Tue, 09/11/2012 - 4:35pm

Did I somehow misread this arbitration ruling in concluding that not only does it state that Goodell has the jurisdiction to discipline based on evidence of intent to injure (just not for undisclosed pay), but more tellingly that the panel already believes that the standard for "intent to injure" is supported by the presented evidence? See excerpt:

"In our view the alleged bounty program was both an undisclosed agreement to provide compensation to players and an agreement to cause injury to opposing players."

I read the entire ruling and it certainly sounds to me like the panel is saying, hey Rog, just clean this up a bit and send the suspensions right back to us for approval. Not that simple, I'm sure, but I'm puzzled by all the stories about how this was a big loss for Goodell and a big win for the players.

by Eddo :: Wed, 09/12/2012 - 1:01pm

Because the vast majority of people don't read the details. All they see is "suspensions overturned", and conclude that it means they've been overturned permanently.