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Suspensions Of New Orleans Football Players Lifted


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. They haven't played their first regular season game yet, but the New Orleans Saints already have a victory under their belts. Today, an arbitration panel lifted the National Football League's suspension of four current and former players. They've been implicated in the team's so-called bounty system. You may remember that the Saints were caught on tape offering cash rewards for big plays, big hits, and it appeared knocking opponents out of games. NPR's Mike Pesca is with us to explain what's happened. And, Mike, first, tell us about this decision.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Well, this was a decision by an arbitration panel comprised of two federal judges, former federal judges, a college professor. And what they were looking at is the decision made by the NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, and Roger Goodell suspended all these players and a bunch of coaches for a couple of reasons. One is it seemed that the bounty system - it was a cash reward system that technically violates the collective bargaining agreement's salary cap - can't pay players extra.

It seems like a little part of it, but that seems to be a clear violation. It's within the commissioner's powers to suspend anyone for conduct detrimental to the game, and he also said that he was quite upset with the fact that there seemed to be an intent to injure. But what the panel did was it went in and it said the commissioner is within his rights to suspend someone if he found there was an intent to injure. The commissioner is not within his rights to offer a suspension if there was a collective bargaining salary cap dispute in play.

And because it said they couldn't tell how much of the decision was based on the salary cap thing and how much was based on the intent to injure, they're just vacating the decision. I think the bottom line is even though this is a rare pause on Commissioner Goodell's powers, it seems to be just a road bump because there's nothing in this decision that would indicate that Goodell couldn't just clarify what he did and say forget the salary part. This is all about an intent to injure.

SIEGEL: So if he changed the rationale, you're saying...

PESCA: And clarify, it would seem.

SIEGEL: ...he might be successful. Which players are involved in this, Mike?

PESCA: We said that it's a good day for the Saints, but, you know, only two of these players are still on the Saints. You have Jonathan Vilma, who had the biggest suspension, and Will Smith, the defensive end. Scott Fujita, he went to the Browns. He was practicing because part of the suspension is you couldn't practice with the team this week. He was practicing in a facility a quarter mile away and could hear the whistles from the Browns' training camp. And then Anthony Hargrove was actually cut by the Packers because they said why have a player who's going to be suspended for that long? They might resign Hargrove, or they might not because they might think that Goodell will reverse or clarify, rather, his decision.

SIEGEL: Does today's ruling also affect the coaches and the Saints' general manager?

PESCA: No. Because everything with the decision had to do with the players' union collective bargaining agreement. The coaches are not in the players' union. So Sean Payton suspended for all season; their GM, Mickey Loomis, eight games; their assistant coach, Joe Vitt, six games; and Gregg Williams, the sort of mastermind who was the defensive coordinator at the center of this, still pretty much bounced for football until the commissioner decides he could come back in.

SIEGEL: OK. Thanks, Mike.

PESCA: You're welcome.

SIEGEL: That's NPR sports correspondent Mike Pesca. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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