To borrow a term from the golfing world, Roger Goodell and the four current and former New Orleans Saints players originally implicated in the Bountygate scandal are taking a mulligan.
You could possibly call it a schoolyard version of a do-over.
Goodell originally suspended Jonathan Vilma for the entire season, Anthony Hargrove for eight games, Will Smith for four games and Scott Fujita for three for their alleged involvement in a pay-to-injure bounty program while playing for the Saints from 2008 to 2011.
The two sides bickered back-and-forth after the suspensions came down, the league office handing over very little evidence that lead to the hefty suspensions, and the players offering no proof of their innocence to the league.
Now, everyone has seen how stern Goodell wants to be in the matter, and a three-person panel has vacated the suspensions, but as they've given Goodell the power to rule again, both sides are being a little more free with the flow of information. At least they are acting like that will be the case.
According to the Times-Picayune, the panel threw out the suspensions because Goodell overstepped his bounds in ruling on the matter because it involved salary-cap issues.
The panel vacated the suspensions because this case involves an issue of "conduct detrimental to the integrity of our public confidence in the game of professional football" and an issue of salary-cap violations. The panel explained that Goodell can rule on conduct issues, while a system arbitrator is supposed to rule on salary-cap issues.
The panel gave Goodell the power to hand out punishment relating to the conduct of the players, and now the process begins again.
This time, both sides are playing nice.
Goodell sent letters to the players offering meetings prior to his ruling. Unlike the past, where the players have refused to meet or walked out on the meetings because they felt they were being unfairly treated, Vilma agreed to a sit-down with Goodell, and the other three players followed suit.
Vilma, via a text message to ESPN’s Ed Werder, thinks this time around the meeting will be fair.
"We can all benefit from transparency regarding evidence and witnesses instead of using conjecture or hearsay to come to inaccurate conclusions," Vilma said. "I look forward to getting this accomplished."
Vilma’s attorney, Peter Ginsberg, said he wants to see the evidence against his client and confront the witnesses:
When the commissioner produces less than one percent of the evidence gathered in the investigation, it became abundantly clear we were not being offered a fair opportunity to present to him in a very strong and detailed manner what in fact took place and decided not to participate in what was clearly a charade.
We hope that now, as we regroup, that we are provided a fair and appropriate avenue to a just resolution.
Goodell, as he’s always said he’s wanted, just wants to sit down with each player and hear their side of the story prior to ruling.
It’s unfortunate that it’s taken this much anger and fighting, childish banter and tricks and trips to court to get these meetings scheduled, but apparently the three-person appeals panel got everyone back to the table.
The Times-Picayune reported that the timetable for these meetings has not been scheduled, but the players—unlike the previous ruling—are eligible to play during the process.
There will likely be suspensions handed down still. The question remains how long will those suspensions be? Will coming together and sharing information, evidence and healthy banter be enough to settle the issue peacefully, and will it possibly reduce the previous length of suspensions?
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