Bounty Gate Suspensions Overturned By Independent Appeals Panel

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 23: Jonathan Vilma #51 of the New Orleans Saints calls a defensive play during a game against the Indianapolis Colts being held at Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 23, 2011 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints defeated the Colts 62-7. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)

In what will probably be lauded as a victory for the players, a three-person independent appeals panel has overturned a previous ruling by NFL arbiter Stephen Burbank that stated "commissioner Rodger Goodell was within his powers under the collective bargaining agreement to suspend four players for their alleged roles in a pay to injure system," according to Sports Illustrated.

The four players suspended in the Bounty Gate matter, Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove, have been immediately reinstated, and no further punishment can come from the commissioner, according to SI, unless the commissioner has more evidence than just a performance pool.

It is now officially fair to assume a lack of fight on behalf of the league to hang onto the suspensions of Vilma, Fujita, Smith and Hargrove is their admittance that they never had proper evidence in the first place. It also provides recourse for a player wishing to overturn a penalty given by the commissioner - although rest assured the egg won't be on the league's face for long. They will likely respond with clear-cut specifics on any matter that could result in a suspension for players.

If nothing else, it's a small victory for the idea Goodell must actually have evidence before applying penalties. And if you're a Saints (Vilma and Smith) or a Browns (Fujita) fan, you're probably excited to get your player(s) back.

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