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Tagliabue overturns Goodell on Saints suspensions

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Tagliabue overturns Goodell on Saints suspensions

NEW ORLEANS (AP) In a sharp rebuke to his successor's handling of the NFL's bounty investigation, former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in a case that has preoccupied the league for almost a year.

Tagliabue, who was appointed by Commissioner Roger Goodell to handle the appeals, still found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays - including hard tackles - that could merit fines. But he stressed that the team's coaches were very much involved.

``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 ruling said.

Tagliabue oversaw a second round of player appeals to the league in connection with the cash-for-hits program run by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams from 2009-2011. The players initially opposed his appointment.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had been given a full-season suspension, while defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove each received shorter suspensions.

Tagliabue cleared Fujita of conduct detrimental to the league.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees offered his thoughts on Twitter: ``Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated. Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back.''

None of the players sat out any games because of suspensions. They have been allowed to play while appeals are pending, though Fujita is on injured reserve and Hargrove is not with a team.

Shortly before the regular season, the initial suspensions were thrown out by an appeals panel created by the league's collective bargaining agreement. Goodell then reissued them, with some changes, and now those have been dismissed.

Now, with the player suspensions overturned, the end could be near for a nearly 10-month dispute over how the NFL handled an investigation that covered three seasons and gathered about 50,000 pages of documents.

``We respect Mr. Tagliabue's decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters,'' the NFL said in a statement.

``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 (NFL's collective bargaining agreement) 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.''

Meanwhile, the players have challenged the NFL's handling of the entire process in federal court, but U.S District Judge Ginger Berrigan had been waiting for the latest round of appeals to play out before deciding whether to get involved.

NFL investigators found that Vilma and Smith were ring leaders of a cash-for-hits program that rewarded injurious tackles labeled as ``cart-offs'' and ``knockouts.'' The NFL also concluded that Hargrove lied to NFL investigators to help cover up the program.

Goodell also suspended Williams indefinitely, while banning Saints head coach Sean Payton for a full season.

Tagliabue's ruling comes after a new round of hearings that for the first time allowed Vilma's attorneys and the NFL Players Association, which represents the other three players, to cross-examine key NFL witnesses. Those witnesses included Williams and former Saints assistant Mike Cerullo, who was fired after the 2009 season and whose email to the league, accusing the Saints of being ``a dirty organization,'' jump-started the probe.

``We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result,'' the players' union said in a statement. ``We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program.

``Vacating all discipline affirms the players' unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged `intent-to-injure' were utterly and completely false.

``We are happy for our members.''

A statement released on Vilma's behalf said the linebacker is ``relieved and gratified that Jonathan no longer needs to worry about facing an unjustified suspension.

``On the other hand, Commissioner Tagliabue's rationalization of Commissioner Goodell's actions does nothing to rectify the harm done by the baseless allegations lodged against Jonathan. Jonathan has a right and every intention to pursue proving what really occurred and we look forward to returning to a public forum where the true facts can see the light of day.''

VCU loses fourth consecutive game to St. Louis

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VCU loses fourth consecutive game to St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Javonte Perkins had 25 points as Saint Louis topped VCU 80-62 on Friday night.

Hasahn French had 18 points for Saint Louis (19-8, 8-6 Atlantic 10 Conference). Terrence Hargrove Jr. added 11 points. Jordan Goodwin had 10 points.

Marcus Santos-Silva had 11 points for the Rams (17-10, 7-7), who have now lost four consecutive games. De'Riante Jenkins added 10 points.

Saint Louis plays Saint Joseph's at home on Wednesday. VCU faces UMass on the road on Wednesday.

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Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Tristan Thompson calls Bradley Beal one of the best shooting guards in the league

Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson spoke with reporters after the team's victory over the Wizards Friday night, praising Bradley Beal, who was snubbed from All-Star consideration this season despite averaging nearly 30 points-per-game.

The Cavaliers held the Wizards to just 21 points in the fourth quarter, and Thompson said their main focus was neutralizing Beal.

"The Wizards are really good offensively when they are making their runs," Thompson said postgame. "Bradley Beal is an All-Star in our league. One of the top-three two-guards in our league right now, so we were just trying to make it tough for him."

Beal finished the night with 26 points, but struggled from the floor. Beal shot 9-for-28 from the floor and the Cavaliers' stingy defense was clearly a factor.

Beal and the Wizards will have a chance to get back on track on Sunday night at Capital One Arena when they host the Chicago Bulls for the final time this season.

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