NFL hands down four player suspensions in ‘bounty-gate’

Eric McErlain Sports Blogger
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Earlier today, the National Football League announced that it had suspended four current and former members of the New Orleans Saints for their part in establishing a bounty program in conjunction with former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams during the 2009 season — actions the NFL described as “conduct detrimental” to the NFL. The four players who were suspended are:

  • Linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was suspended for the entire upcoming NFL season. Vilma will not be eligible for reinstatement until after the next Super Bowl is played in 2013;
  • Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now playing for the Green Bay Packers, who will be suspended for the first eight games of the upcoming season;
  • Defensive lineman Will Smith, who will serve a four-game suspension; and
  • Linebacker Scott Fujita, now playing for the Cleveland Browns, who was given a three-game suspension.

Today’s action is the second wave of suspensions issued by the league in association with its investigation of the Saints. In March, the NFL suspended Williams — who had since moved on to the St. Louis Rams — indefinitely for his role, while also suspending Saints head coach Sean Payton for the entire 2012 NFL season. Mickey Loomis, the team’s general manager, will also serve an eight-game suspension.

Today’s action isn’t the last we’ll hear of the story, given that Fujita is a member of the executive committee of the union that represents the league’s players, the National Football League Players Association (NFLPA).

After the suspensions were announced, the NFLPA issued the following statement: “[T]he NFLPA has still not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players’ involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf.”

Eric McErlain blogs at Off Wing Opinion, a Forbes “Best of the Web” winner. In 2006 he wrote a “bloggers bill of rights” to help integrate bloggers into the Washington Capitals’ press box. Eric has also written for Deadspin, NBC Sports and the Sporting News, and covers sports television for The TV News. Follow Eric on Twitter.