Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue lifted the suspensions of New Orleans Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita in connection with the bounty scandal that has hung over the team all season.
In his decision, Tagliabue treaded carefully, supporting Goodell’s findings while lifting the suspensions of the players. Only Fujita, however, was fully exonerated:
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.” However, for the reasons set forth in this decision, I now vacate all discipline to be imposed upon these players.
Upon review of the decision, I found the following items to be interesting:
- Tagliabue’s review of Goodell’s findings was not de novo – in other words, he did not review the facts anew. Rather, he deferred to Goodell’s findings and looked for “consistency of treatment, uniformity of standards for parties similarly situated and patent unfairness or selectivity.” This presented a higher standard for the players.
- Tagliabue conducted 4 days of evidentiary hearings at which 12 witnesses testified.
- With respect to the NFL’s player safety initiatives, Tagliabue waves the NFL flag by mentioning all of the programs that the NFL is involved in under Goodell’s watch. With the concussion class action lawsuits pressing forward, expect to hear about NFL safety often in the future.
- Tagliabue’s references to his predecessor, Pete Rozelle, showed how much weight Commissioners tend to place on league precedent.
Tagliabue’s split decision left questions for both sides. However, it appears that his message to Commissioner Goodell is to exercise patience and restraint and to strive for consistency with disciplinary matters.