NFL panel overturns Saints 'bounty' suspensions

LOS ANGELES

The ironclad power of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell may not be so ironclad after all. A three-member appeals panel has overturned Goodell's suspension of four players involved in the league's "Bounty-gate" scandal.

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been suspended for the entire season because of allegations he was part of a Saints program that paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opposing players.

Vilma and defensive end Will Smith can rejoin the Saints immediately.

The Saints' opening game of the season is Sunday.

Linebacker Scott Fujita, now with the Cleveland Browns, can also return to action.

The other player suspended, defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, is a free agent.

The arbitration panel ruled Goodell overstepped his authority in suspending players for merely receiving bonuses. The NFL needed to prove there was actually intent to injure.

Since Vilma and Smith were banned from practicing with the Saints, it's unlikely they'll play on Sunday.

If NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell chooses not to re-address his stance on "Bounty-gate," Friday's lifting of the suspensions will be permanent.

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