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The NFL suspended four players Wednesday for their roles in the New Orleans Saints' bounty system, including linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season.
In addition to Vilma, defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) was suspended eight games, defensive Will Smith four games and linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) three games.
All of the suspensions are without pay.
All four player suspensions will be appealed, according to an NFL source, who told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, "get ready for a massive multiple legal battle over this on several fronts."
Each of the four suspended players declined the chance to meet with the NFL over its findings, and also declined to send someone to argue on their behalf, league sources told Schefter. As one NFL source said, "They took the Fifth Amendment."
The NFL Players Association released a statement Wednesday afternoon saying it still hasn't received "any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program."
"We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf," the NFLPA said.
League sources told Schefter that the NFLPA never recommended any discipline in the case.
The players' appeals will be heard by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
"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."
The suspended players, except for Vilma, are allowed to take part in their teams' offseason and preseason activities. Vilma's suspension begins immediately and will end after the Super Bowl.
The NFL cited specific evidence against the four players in its ruling:
• The league said Fujita pledged "a significant amount of money" to the bounty program.
• Hargrove submitted a signed declaration to the NFL not only that the program existed, but that he was an active participant. In addition, the NFL said that Hargrove told at least one player on another team that former Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was a target in the 2009 NFC Championship Game and that Hargrove obstructed the league's investigation in 2010 when he wasn't truthful with investigators.
• Smith, according to the NFL, helped former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams create and fund the bounty pool when he was a captain of the defense.
• Vilma is alleged to have helped Williams create and fund the program. Also, the NFL said Vilma pledged $10,000 in cash to any Saints player who knocked former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 divisional playoff game involving the teams and then repeated the pledge for Favre for the NFC title game.
Warner was among several former and current NFL players to react on social media to the NFL's ruling.
"Just saw player suspensions from "bounty gate", WOW! #fb," Warner posted on Twitter.
NFL statement on player penalties
The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell released a statement outlining player penalties in the Saints bounty scandal and evidence the league said justified the suspensions. Statement
Saints backup quarterback Chase Daniel tweeted that Vilma found out about his suspension by watching ESPN's "SportsCenter" and not from the league itself.
Daniel's tweet: "I was standing right next 2 @jonvilma51 when he found out abt his suspension ON @SportsCenter. Really? He has to find out about it that way?"
Meanwhile, Saints running back Mark Ingram tweeted that the suspensions will only prove to motivate New Orleans.
"Don't worry they just makin us hungrier and puttin a bigger chip on or shoulder!! #WHODATNATION will rise above it!! #believedat," he wrote.
The NFL also sent a memo to its teams Wednesday in which Goodell "re-emphasized that any program of non-contract bonuses, however it is characterized, is a violation of league rules" and outlined specific steps it expected players and coaches to complete to ensure bounties are not practiced in the league.
The Saints seemingly had been bracing for the loss of Vilma, bolstering their linebacker corps through free agency. Curtis Lofton and David Hawthorne were among the team's signings this offseason.
A league investigation found that from 2009 to 2011, New Orleans coaches and players put together a bounty system that paid out improper cash bonuses for hits aimed at knocking opposing players out of games. The NFL says as many as 27 Saints participated.
Goodell already has suspended Saints coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season and fined the team $500,000. Williams is suspended indefinitely, New Orleans general manager Mickey Loomis begins an eight-game ban after the preseason, and interim coach Joe Vitt begins his six-game suspension at the same time.
The Saints also forfeited two second-round picks, one in last week's draft and another in 2013.
Payton's suspension began April 16 and runs through the Super Bowl, which, incidentally, is in New Orleans. During that time, Payton may not have even casual, non-football conversations with anyone on any NFL team without at least notifying the league office.
god even the nfl hates ohio state - conspiracy theorist in buckeye nation
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