New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season by the NFL, one of four players punished on Wednesday for participating in the team’s cash-for-hits bounty system.
Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, now with the Green Bay Packers, was suspended for the first half of the 16-game season; Saints defensive end Will Smith was barred for the opening four games; and linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, will miss the first three games. Like Vilma, they were suspended without pay.
Vilma released a statement later Wednesday denying any role in the alleged bounty program and vowing to fight his suspension.
“I am shocked and extremely disappointed by the NFL’s decision to suspend me for the 2012 season. Commissioner Roger Goodell has refused to share any of the supposed evidence he claims supports this unprecedented punishment. The reason is clear: I never paid, or intended to pay, $10,000, or any amount of money, to any player for knocking Kurt Warner, Brett Favre or any other player, out of the 2009 divisional playoff game, 2010 NFC Championship Game, or any other game.
“I never set out to intentionally hurt any player and never enticed any teammate to intentionally hurt another player. I also never put any money into a bounty pool or helped to create a bounty pool intended to pay out money for injuring other players. I have always conducted myself in a professional and proud manner. I intend to fight this injustice, to defend my reputation, to stand up for my team and my profession, and to send a clear signal to the commissioner that the process has failed, to the detriment of me, my teammates, the New Orleans Saints and the game.”
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.”