NEW YORK — NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell appointed predecessor Paul Tagliabue to hear the appeals of four players suspended in the Saints bounties scandal.
Goodell said Friday he notified Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove, as well as the players’ union, that Tagliabue would be the hearing officer to “decide the appeals and bring the matter to a prompt and fair conclusion.”
The union and the four players had asked Goodell to recuse himself, contending he could not fairly rule. Their second set of appeals will be heard Oct. 30.
Vilma was suspended for the 2012 season and Smith was banned four games for his role in the bounties program. Fujita, now with the Browns, was barred three games, since reduced to one. Hargrove, a free agent, had his suspension reduced from eight games to seven.
“I have held two hearings to date,” Goodell said, “and have modified the discipline in several respects based on my recent meetings with the players. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue’s decisions.”
“Paul Tagliabue is a genuine football authority whose tenure as commissioner was marked by his thorough and judicious approach to all matters,” he added. “He has many years of experience in NFL collective bargaining matters and an impeccable reputation for integrity.”
Tagliabue served as NFL commissioner from 1989-2006 and is an attorney. For part of that time, Goodell was the league’s general counsel.
Goodell said he consulted with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith before asking Tagliabue to hear these appeals. The collective bargaining agreement with the union that was reached to end the lockout in August 2011 gave Goodell exclusive authority to hear appeals of discipline for conduct detrimental or to appoint someone to hear and decide an appeal.
“To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter, nor has he been any part of the process,” Goodell said. “Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings.”