Will the NFL commissioner's harsh punishment set a precedent? What options do the players have? An expert answers these questions, and more.
The NFL came down hard Wednesday on the Saints' players allegedly responsible for orchestrating the bounty scheme that paid out money to defensive players who knocked opponents out of games with big hits. The league suspended four players for a total of 31 games, led by a yearlong ban for linebacker Jonathan Vilma, the accused player mastermind. The other players suspended were now-Packers defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (eight games), Saints defensive end Will Smith (four games), and now-Browns linebacker Scott Fujita (three games). The suspensions, handed out by commissioner Roger Goodell, were for initiating the bounty program, paying into the slush fund for knocking out opposing players, and lying to league investigators about the scheme between 2009 and 2011.
All four players have announced they will appeal the suspensions. But Goodell, the very man who decided the length of the bans, also has the final say on player appeals for off-field incidents under the new collective bargaining agreement signed in August.
So what options do the players have? What are their chances on appeal, and what are their legal options if Goodell upholds the suspensions? Here's a primer.
What was Goodell's rationale for the player suspensions? After suspending three coaches and general manager Mickey Loomis, including head coach Sean Payton for a year and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, it looks like the commissioner wanted to hold the players to the same harsh standard. Like Payton, Vilma got a season-long ban for a combination of facilitating the program through his role as the team's defensive captain and lying to league investigators about it.
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The lying was a leading cause of the harsh suspensions, according to Gabe Feldman, sports law professor at Tulane University Law School.