NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will recuse himself from hearing the appeals of the four players suspended for their role in the New Orleans Saints bounty program. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue will step in for Goodell to oversee the matter.
DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFLPA, revealed the news Friday afternoon. The NFL later confirmed:
I have been in touch with Roger. He has formally notified me that he will recused (sic) himself. Paul Tagliabue will step in.— DeMaurice Smith (@DeSmithNFLPA) October 19, 2012
Goodell explained the decision in the statement released to the media:
"To bring this matter to a prompt and fair conclusion, I have appointed former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to serve as the hearing officer for the upcoming appeals ...
To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter nor has he been any part of the process. Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue's decisions."
The players had asked that Goodell take himself out of appeal process, arguing that he was too closely tied to the matter to provide a fair hearing. The commissioner left the door open for that possibility in a press conference at the league's fall meetings this week in Chicago.
"I understand the union has sent some type of a letter," Goodell responded when asked about recusing himself. "I thought it was a union letter, but whatever it is, we will certainly respond to those letters when I have a chance to focus on them after these meetings."
Suspensions for the four players were reissued by Goodell after a CBA appeals panel rejected the original suspensions on the basis of cap governance. The matter was sent back to the NFL to handle under the auspices of player conduct.