By Steve Silverman
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Can you hear the screaming emanating from the NFL's Park Avenue offices?
The loud voices -- stomping and swearing -- are coming from commissioner Roger Goodell, who has had his legs cut out from under him by his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue.
The former commissioner, who wants to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton, rescinded the suspensions of individual players in the 'Bountygate' scandal that came to light earlier this year.
Goodell had engaged in an investigation that led to the suspensions of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and made a scapegoat out of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, along with several other members of the Saints' coaching staff and front office.
The Saints allegedly paid bounties who could knock opponents out of games, and Goodell's original conclusions resulted in suspensions for Payton, Williams, assistant coach Joe Vitt, general manager Mickey Loomis and players Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland).
Tagliabue has lifted the players' suspensions because he does not believe that there is enough evidence to say that they initiated the bounties on opponents like Brett Favre, who opposed the Saints in the 2009 NFC Championship Game while playing quarterback for the Minnesota Vikings.
Instead, Tagliabue's ruling puts the blame on the Saints' leadership for this problem.
"Unlike (the) Saints' broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects," Tagliabue said in his ruling. "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 Saints' players had said they were not involved in initiating any bounty program, and they appealed Goodell's suspensions based on a lack of proof of their culpability.
Tagliabue's ruling means that he agreed with the players.
Goodell has been the league's "commissioner of discipline" since taking over the league's most powerful position following Tagliabue's decision to retire in 2006.
Goodell's decision-making ability in matters of player discipline may be severely impacted from this point forward.
He will know that any suspension he issues in the future can be challenged by players unless the NFL has incontrovertible proof of wrongdoing.
That's not likely to impact drug- or PED-related suspensions, since those disciplinary actions are accompanied by scientific proof of the drug use.
The league issued a statement regarding its former commissioner's ruling.
"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."
Vilma still has plans to file a personal defamation lawsuit against Goodell, and Tagliabue's ruling could help the status of that legal action.
Goodell had been the NFL's final authority on all matters that he chose to get involved in.
Tagliabue's ruling means that Goodell no longer has that power.
Goodell will put on a peaceful public face, but behind closed doors he has to be seething.
Are Goodell's days as the league's moral authority over? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below...
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