Four NFL players banned for role in bounty scandal

The National Football League (NFL) suspended four players on Wednesday for their roles in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal, including a season-long ban for current Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma.

In addition to Vilma, defensive lineman Anthony Hargove (now with the Green Bay Packers) was suspended eight games, Saints' defensive end Will Smith will miss four games and linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) will miss three games to start the 2012 NFL season.

According to the NFL, the players were banned because of their leadership roles in a system that financially rewarded individuals for hurting opponents from 2009-2011 and is believed to have included between 22 and 27 players.

"No bounty program can exist without active player participation," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.

"The evidence clearly showed that the players being held accountable today willingly and enthusiastically embraced the bounty program. Players put the vast majority of the money into this program and they share responsibility for playing by the rules and protecting each other within those rules."

Each player may appeal the decision within three days and would appear at a hearing presided over by Goodell at which the player may speak on his behalf and be represented by counsel.

(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)