Players appeal bans in Saints bounty case

Mon May 7, 2012 5:31pm EDT

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma celebrates the Saints' overtime win against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Maryland December 6, 2009. REUTERS/Andrew Cameron

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma celebrates the Saints' overtime win against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Maryland December 6, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Cameron

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(Reuters) - New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has appealed the season-long suspension he received for the leading role he took in the team's bounty scandal, the National Football League (NFL) said on Monday.

Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers), Saints' defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) also launched appeals, league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

The players were punished last week as the NFL identified them as having leadership roles in a program that gave cash rewards for knocking opponents out of games from 2009-2011 and is believed to have included between 22 and 27 players.

Hargrove received an eight-game ban, Smith was hit with a four-game suspension while Fujita got three games.

A date for the appeals, to be heard by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, has not been set.

The scandal has already resulted in heavy punishment for the Saints franchise, including a season-long suspension for head coach Sean Payton, eight games for general manger Mickey Loomis and six games for assistant Joey Vitt. Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was also suspended indefinitely.

The NFL Players Association, which said it never received detailed or specific evidence from the league of the players' involvement in the pay-to-injure program, filed a grievance last week on behalf of the players.

According to the NFLPA, the league violated the collective bargaining agreement because of the manner the NFL investigation into the scandal and the suspensions were handled.

(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh North Carolina; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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