NFL players suspended over bounty program eligible to play

(CNN) -- Four NFL players will be eligible to play this weekend despite having been suspended for their involvement in the New Orleans Saints' controversial "bounty" program, the league said Friday, September 7th.

Their suspensions are to be reviewed by Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to the NFL. The move came shortly after a ruling by a three-member appeals panel.

"Consistent with the panel's decision, Commissioner Goodell will, as directed, make an expedited determination of the discipline imposed for violating the league's pay-for-performance/bounty rule. Until that determination is made, the four players are reinstated and eligible to play starting this weekend," league spokesman Greg Aiello said.

In March, the league suspended four current and former Saints players -- Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove and Will Smith -- concluding that they had leadership roles in the pay-for-injury program.

The league also suspended three coaches and the Saints' general manager this year.

Vilma, a defensive captain, helped the team's defensive coordinator establish and fund the program, the league said in a news release.

"Multiple independent sources also confirmed that Vilma offered a specific bounty -- $10,000 in cash -- to any player who knocked Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner out of the 2009 Divisional Playoff Game and later pledged the same amount to anyone who knocked Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game the following week," the league concluded after a months-long internal investigation.

The NFL said its investigation found that the Saints had an "active bounty program" during the 2009, 2010 and 2011 seasons. During this time, players were purportedly offered payments if they managed to hurt opposing players and knock them out of a game.

Vilma then sued the NFL and Goodell, saying his reputation and professional career were being "irreparably harmed."

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