At long last we can begin to put the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal behind us.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, put in charge of overseeing discipline for players involved in the matter, made the decision today to vacate all penalties against Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith.
But Tagliabue did so while noting they were just some of the players that took part in the scandal that has tarnished the organization and led to the suspension of coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis, linebackers coach Joe Vitt and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
“Saints' coaches and managers led a deliberate, unprecedented and effective effort to obstruct the NFL's investigation into the Program and the alleged bounty," Tagliabue wrote in his decision, according to NFL.com.
Tagliabue wrote that Fujita was not guilty of the infractions that he believes the other named players and many others were.
"I strongly condemn the misconduct of the Saints coaches found by Commissioner Goodell and confirmed in the record developed during this appeal," Tagliabue wrote. "That severe misconduct played a substantial role in my deciding whether to sustain, in whole or in part, or vacate the discipline to be imposed upon these four players.
"Equally, in vacating the players' suspensions I do not in any degree condone their behavior. I do not approve any of the misconduct in which Commissioner Goodell found the players to have engaged, though I do not find Fujita's conduct equivalent to the other players.”
The NFLPA weighed in on the matter:
"We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result. We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program. Vacating all discipline affirms the players’ unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged “intent-to-injure” were utterly and completely false. We are happy for our members."
Hopefully, the matter can be put to rest in the near future. Vilma has said he will pursue legal action against the NFL for defamation. Williams hopes to one day soon return to work in the NFL. The Saints’ season has been a mess by any measuring stick and Payton is currently out of contract.
It’s not the last we will hear of the bounty scandal but maybe soon it will be history.
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Brad Biggs covers the Bears for the Chicago Tribune