|Vilma remains suspended for the season; Goodell remains reviled for his discipline. (Getty Images)|
A month after an appeals panel temporarily overturned Roger Goodell's suspensions of the four players involved in the Saints bounty scandal, the NFL commissioner reissued his decision Tuesday. Linebacker Jonathan Vilma remains suspended for the season, defensive end Will Smith remains suspended for four games, linebacker Scott Fujita's suspension was reduced from three games to one and Anthony Hargrove's suspension was reduced by one game to seven.
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Vilma will be paid for the first six games of the season that he spent on the physically-unable-to-perform (PUP) list.
"In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story," Goodell wrote in his decision. "In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for 'cart-offs,' that players were encouraged to 'crank up the John Deere tractor' and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play."
The NFL Players Association issued the following response to Goodell's latest ruling:
"For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the league’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake. We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance."
CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman writes that Goodell, as he has done in the past with other players in trouble, rewarded cooperation while standing firm on his belief that the Saints were involved in a pay-to-injure scheme.
That includes Vilma, obviously. Goodell wrote in his decision that "I find, based on all of these facts and the entire record described above, that you (Vilma) did, in fact, pledge money to any teammate who injured or disabled Mr. (Brett) Favre to an extent that he would not be able to continue playing in the playoff game. I recognize that you and some of your teammates have denied that you made such a pledge or claim not to recall your doing so, but I am persuaded, based on the entirety of the record before me, that you did so. And I find that such a pledge or any similar incentive is conduct detrimental."
Hours after the ruling, Vilma's attorney, Peter Ginsberg responded.
"Commissioner Goodell has crafted a 'revised punishment' that continues his previous grossly misplaced interpretation of the 'evidence' What the Commissioner did today is not justice, nor just," Ginsberg said in a statement. "The suspension has the fingerprints of lawyers trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to appease an Appeals Panel decision ordering the Commissioner to pay attention to his authority under the CBA. Someone needs to tell the Commissioner directly that his duties also include being true to the evidence, to fundamental notions of due process and to the integrity of the game. That time hopefully will come soon."
Ginsberg added: "Jonathan Vilma did not offer a bounty or any incentive to any teammate to injure an opposing player," and "Goodell has further damaged Jonathan’s reputation, compromised his career, and cast an unfair cloud over a fine and decent man. It is unfortunate that the process exhibited by the NFL has had no decency."
Smith, meanwhile, called the commissioner's reissuance of punishments into question.
"I remain frustrated with the continued unilateral rulings by this commissioner as he continues to disregard the facts and assault my character," Smith said in a statement. "Let me be clear -- I never participated in a 'pay-to-injure program,' never took the field with intent to injure another player, and never contributed any money to hurt other players. It was my hope that those investigating would put their arrogance and agenda aside in order to comprehend the difference between a 'pay-for-performance program' and a 'pay-to-injure program,' but until that day, I will continue to pursue my appeal options through the NFLPA, and attempt to return to work for my family, teammates, fans and the city of New Orleans."
Vilma and Smith are currently on the Saints' roster while Fujita plays for the Browns and Hargrove is a free agent.