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         === Tagliabue overturns player suspensions in bounty case ===
 
 New  York,  NY (Sports  Network)  -  Former  NFL commissioner  Paul  Tagliabue
 announced his ruling in the New Orleans Saints bounty case and has vacated all
 player discipline previously issued by current commissioner Roger Goodell.
 
 Jonathan  Vilma,  Anthony Hargrove,  Will  Smith  and  Scott Fujita  were  all
 suspended  by Goodell  in  May for  their  roles in  the  bounty program  from
 2009-2011. Vilma had been suspended for the entire 2012 season, while Hargrove
 was  originally  given an eight-game penalty.  Smith was banned for four games
 and Fujita was slapped with a three-game suspension.
 
 The  suspensions  were overturned by  an appeals  panel in September, then re-
 issued  by Goodell  -- with slight modifications -- in October. Another appeal
 led  to  Tagliabue's appointment,  and he decided  to overturn the suspensions
 after reviewing the case.
 
 Tagliabue,  in a statement released Tuesday, affirmed the league's findings in
 the investigation, the results of which were first released back in March, but
 determined the  Saints' organization  deserved more  of the blame  and not the
 players.
 
 "Unlike  the  Saints'  broad  organizational misconduct,  the  player  appeals
 involve  sharply focused  issues of  alleged individual  player misconduct  in
 several different aspects," Tagliabue said in the statement.
 
 "I  affirm  commissioner Goodell's factual findings  as to the four players. I
 conclude  that Hargrove,  Smith and  Vilma  -- but  not Fujita  -- engaged  in
 'conduct  detrimental to  the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game
 of professional football.'
 
 "My  affirmation of  commissioner Goodell's  findings could  certainly justify
 the issuance of fines. However, this entire  case has been contaminated by the
 coaches and others in the Saints' organization.
 
 "Moreover,  there  is evidence  in the record  that suggests that commissioner
 Goodell  could  have disciplined  a greater  number of  Saints players for the
 events  that occurred  here. This  sad chapter  in the  otherwise praiseworthy
 history  of  the New Orleans  Saints casts no executive,  coach or player in a
 favorable light."
 
 Saints  head  coach Sean Payton  was suspended for  the entire 2012 season and
 then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely for their
 roles in the program.
 
 Also,  Saints general  manager Mickey Loomis was suspended without pay for the
 first  eight regular-season games and Saints assistant head coach Joe Vitt was
 suspended  without  pay for the first  six. Vitt was named the Saints' interim
 head coach in Payton's absence for the 2012 season.
 
 The  Saints  also forfeited second-round draft  picks in 2012 and '13 and were
 fined $500,000.
 
 Tagliabue  interviewed  all four players, as  well as other key witnesses that
 included members of the Saints' coaching staff at the time.
 
 The NFL didn't dispute Tagliabue's ruling in its response Tuesday.
 
 "We  respect  Mr. Tagliabue's  decision,  which  underscores the  due  process
 afforded  players in  NFL disciplinary  matters," the  statement began.  "This
 matter  has now  been  reviewed  by commissioner  Goodell,  two CBA  grievance
 arbitrators,  the  CBA  Appeals  Panel,  and  Mr.  Tagliabue  as  commissioner
 Goodell's designated appeals officer.
 
 "The  decisions  have made clear that  the Saints operated a bounty program in
 violation  of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player
 safety,  and  that the commissioner has  the authority under the CBA to impose
 discipline  for those  actions as  conduct detrimental  to the  league. Strong
 action  was taken  in this  matter to  protect player  safety and  ensure that
 bounties would be eliminated from football."
 
 Each  of  the four  players were  permitted to play  while the appeals process
 continued.
 
 Vilma  was hurt  to begin the season  and rejoined the Saints in late October,
 while  Smith has played all 13 games for New Orleans. Fujita played four games
 for Cleveland this season before a neck problem forced him to injured reserve,
 while Hargrove remains a free agent who has not played this year.
 
 The NFLPA also commented on the ruling in a statement Tuesday.
 
 "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."
 
 
 12/11 15:14:41 ET