Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated all player discipline in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal and exonerated Browns linebacker Scott Fujita.
Fujita, who’s on injured reserve with a potential career-ending neck injury, maintained his innocence all along. He said he paid teammates for making big plays, including sacks and interceptions, but never contributed to a pool that allegedly paid his former teammates for intentionally injuring opponents. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell accused Fujita of contributing funds to a pay-for-injury program when he gave him a three-game suspension in May.
The suspension was later reduced to one game, but Fujita wasn’t entirely cleared until Tagliabue issued his ruling today.
Tagliabue concluded it’s "undisputed" that Fujita only took part in a "non-injury" pay-for-performance pool. “I find his actions here were not conduct detrimental and vacate his suspension,” Tagliabue wrote in his decision.
Fujita, who played for the Saints from 2006-09 before signing with the Browns in 2010, did not immediately reply to an e-mail from the Beacon Journal seeking comment.
As for the other three players suspended in the bounty case, Tagliabue affirmed Goodell’s findings that free-agent defensive end Anthony Hargrove, Saints defensive end Will Smith and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma "engaged in conduct detrimental." But he also cleared them of their suspensions and blamed the Saints for obstruction.
"Unlike the Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects," Tagliabue wrote in his decision. … "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."
The NFL released the following statement: "We respect Mr. Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters. 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."
The NFL Players Association released the following statement: “We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result. We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program. 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.”
Some of Fujita’s teammates voiced their support for him on Twitter after news of Tagliabue’s ruling broke.
Kicker Phil Dawson wrote: “Absolutely thrilled for my teammate Scott Fujita. Great guy. Great player. Great outcome.”
Tight end Benjamin Watson wrote: "Congrats to the whole [Fujita] family! Should have never been put through this whole ordeal but I know you're stronger for it. Love y’all."