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NFL Reaffirms Bounty Suspensions – Will Smith Banned 4 Games

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 16: Jonathan Vilma #51 (L) and Will Smith #91 of the New Orleans Saints with an assits from teammates tackle Tim Hightower #34 of the Arizona Cardinals during the NFC Divisional Playoff Game at Louisana Superdome on January 16, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints won 45-14. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen, Getty Images

The NFL has reaffirmed the four player suspensions handed down in the off-season regarding the Saints bounty program and issued a letter to all four, shedding more light why the penalties were imposed.

Commissioner Roger Goodell is sticking with his original ruling of an full season suspension for Jonathon Vilma and four games for Will Smith, but has scaled back his punishment for ex-Saints Scott Fujita – now with the Browns – and Anthony Hargrove.

Fujita’s suspension was cut from three games to one, while Hargrove’s ban was cut from eight games to seven. Hargrove, who is not currently on an NFL roster has been given credit for the first five games of this season and will have to sit out two games if he signs with a team.

Goodell’s original ban was overturned by a collective bargaining appeals panel which left open the door for the commissioner to reinstate the penalties if there was proof of intent to injure.

The commissioner also issued letters to each player outlining discrepancies between what they had testified to, and what other players and coaches said.

The letter to Smith reads:

“At our meeting in September, you confirmed that you expressed approval of the program when it was first presented to you by Coach Williams. You also confirmed that you provided money to the program pool both at the beginning of the season and again during the playoffs. I understand that you deny that anyone intended to inflict injury on any opposing player. Even in the face of repeated appeals to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor and cart the guy off,’ you and others now claim that the objective was instead merely to ‘knock the wind out’ of your opponents, requiring them to leave the game for only a play or two. From the standpoint of player safety, fair competition, and the integrity of the game, the issues with which I am concerned today, this kind of after-the-fact explanation is little more than wordplay that, in my judgment as Commissioner, offers no basis on which to excuse conduct that does not belong in professional football. Such behavior is conduct detrimental without regard to the precise extent or duration of the disability intended.

“Accordingly, and based on the entire record before me, I find that you endorsed and agreed to, and contributed substantial sums toward, a program that incentivized, encouraged and paid players to cause cart-offs and knockouts, plays in which an opposing player is injured or disabled and unable to continue playing, whether temporarily (cart-off) or for the remainder of the game or longer (knockout). Encouraging and rewarding cart-offs and knockouts represents an effort to cause or to seek to cause injury to and to disable opposing players, and such conduct is detrimental to the integrity of, and public confidence in, professional football, regardless of whether the hit that causes the cart-off or knockout is ‘clean’ or ‘dirty,’ i.e., subject to penalty or fine under on-field playing rules.”
The defensive end issued a statement on the suspensions later in the day:
“I am disappointed the NFL has punished me with a four-game suspension. I have never in my career, nor as a captain asked others, to intentionally target and hurt specific opposing players. I was in no way involved in establishing or assisting Gregg Williams with implementing a bounty program. The accusations made against me are completely and 100 percent false, and I plan to appeal the decision along with the help of the NFL Players Association. Through this entire process, the NFL never notified me of what I was being accused of, nor presented me with any evidence or reasoning for this decision. I am interested in discovering who is making these specific and false accusations, and as well as why a decision was made without speaking with me and giving me the opportunity to review the facts. I am going to work with my union to clear my name and returning to the game I love and respect. Thank you to our fans for the continued support.’’

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