NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell brought the hammer down again today in response to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. Four Saints players, leaders in the locker room and active participants in the play-for-pain programs, were suspended today without pay.
Jonathan Vilma is suspended for the entire 2012 season and must cease participation in current team activities immediately. In addition, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) was suspended eight games, defensive end Will Smith four games and linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) three games.
"No bounty program can exist without active player participation," Goodell said in the league's statement announcing the penalties. "The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules."
Despite the fact these penalties were meant as a way to protect NFL players from being the intended victims of similar bounty programs, some Chicago Bears players expressed frustration and resentment on Twitter over the suspensions.
Said linebacker Lance Briggs: "Saints player suspensions is a bunch of BS."
Added Kahlil Bell: "Maybe we should play football wit flags on from now on. Let's take the contact out of the game. Cuz that's what's it's all about right?"
Dolphins running back Reggie Bush, a former Saints player, was even more incredulous: "Man these Suspensions are outrageous! I'm honestly speechless about how all of this has played out. Something needs to be done about this!!"
"I bet you won't find one NFL Player who agrees with these suspensions" – a statement re-tweeted by Bears linebacker Geno Hayes.
Cardinals kicker Jay Feely questioned the length of the punishments in comparison to what New Orleans coaches received: "Head coach who allowed & facilitated bounty program & cultivated a culture is suspended same amount of time as a player following his lead??"
Other players – like Vikings punter Chris Kluwe, who previously said he felt Vilma should be banned from the game – were supportive of Goodell's decision and questioned the NFLPA's plan to appeal the rulings.
Said Kluwe: ""Vilma and the others deserve the right to an appeal; while I agree with the commissioner's decision others may not, and that's fine, this is America. However, the union has to simultaneously balance defending four guys against the judgement, of [Roger] Goodell (which needs oversight, make no mistake) while at the same time recognizing those four guys were attempting to harm other union members, who also deserve that same protection. The union cannot be just about appeals when someone does something wrong. It also has to be a shield for those men who are a part of it that you never hear about, but pay the same dues and play the same game. I can only hope that the leadership of the NFLPA realizes this, and acts in *all* of its members' interests, however that takes place."
Still, despite player protests, the NFL is changing. The league is trying to make the game safer for its players, and it doesn't appear any amount of protest from the NFLPA or its members is going to change that.
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of Bear Report magazine and BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.