Filling in for current NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue upheld the findings that several members of the New Orleans Saints engaged in a bounty program contrary to league rules. Yet at the same time, the former commissioner vacated the suspensions of the players involved.
In a complicated decision, Tagliabue said that Goodell's findings that Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove, Scott Fujita and Will Smith engaged in the bounty was "factually accurate," reports CBS Sports. But the former commissioner then went on to say that the entire case was "contaminated" by the Saints organization, resulting in his decision to vacate the player suspensions that Goodell had handed down.
Tagliabue was filling in for Goodell who had recused himself from the Saints' appeal of the original decision resulting in the suspensions.
So with all the players involved now cleared to play, does this mean that the Saints bounty scandal is completely behind us?
Well, that's not entirely clear. For starters, Vilma and company are still technically guilty of participating in the scandal, even if their suspensions are lifted. Additionally, Vilma has an active lawsuit against Goodell for defamation, and the linebacker has indicated that he will continue the lawsuit to protect his reputation.
Unfortunately for Vilma, while Tagliabue's ruling wipes out the suspension, it still upholds the underlying claim that Vilma participated in the bounty. In fact, Tagliabue's ruling may strengthen the belief that Vilma broke league rules by offering money for a hit on Brett Favre.
In general, to win a defamation action, the plaintiff would have to prove that the underlying statement is false. But with two NFL commissioners now having found that Vilma engaged in the bounty scandal, he would have an uphill battle to prove that both investigations were false and that he is innocent of the charge.
- Tagliabue overturns New Orleans Saints suspensions in bounty scandal (The Associated Press)
- Will Goodell Suspend Vilma, Saints Players All Over Again? (FindLaw's Tarnished Twenty)
- Saints Bounty Scandal: 4 Players Suspended, Legal Fight Expected (FindLaw's Tarnished Twenty)