NFL players 'bounty' suspension overturned

Sept. 7, 2012 at 7:09 PM
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NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 7 (UPI) -- An appeals panel has overturned suspensions of four players but the NFL says it will make an "expedited" decision on its own discipline in the "bounty" scandal.

The panel, headed by Special Master Stephen Burbank, determined the suspension of New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free-agent defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove violated the league's collective bargaining agreement.

The league issued a statement saying the four will be eligible to play immediately.

"Consistent with the panel's decision, Commissioner [Roger] Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule. Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend."

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Goodell will not make a decision before Sunday's games on disciplining the players, The (New Orleans) Times-Picayune reported.

Goodell imposed the suspensions in July, with Vilma receiving the harshest sanction -- suspension without pay for the 2012 season. Hargrove was suspended for eight games, Smith for four and Fujita for three.

The NFL Players Association said Goodell's move demonstrated "a 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."

Vilma sent out a tweet Friday declaring "Victory is mine!!!! -stewie griffin," -- invoking the name of a character from the "Family Guy" cartoon show.

"Thank you to everyone involved in the process of this solution.. And everyone who supported us through this whole ordeal. #whodat.," Smith tweeted.

Fujita and Hargrove played for New Orleans during the bounty program's duration from 2009-2011 under defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has been suspended indefinitely.

The suspensions of Williams, Coach Sean Payton (season-long ban), General Manager Mickey Loomis (eight games) and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (six games) were not involved in the appeals process.

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