Linebacker Jonathan Vilma's appeal of the season-long ban he received for his role in the New Orleans Saints' bounty scandal was denied along with three other players on Tuesday by the National Football League (NFL).
Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers), Saints' defensive end Will Smith and linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns), who all received smaller suspensions, also had their appeals denied.
The players were punished in May as the NFL identified them as having leadership roles in a program used by the Saints that rewarded players with cash rewards for knocking opponents out of games from 2009-2011.
"Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process."
Hargrove received an eight-game ban, Smith was hit with a four-game suspension while Fujita got three games.
The decision to deny the appeals came after Goodell held a hearing with the players last month.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), who have so far failed to have the bounty case heard by an independent arbitrator as opposed to Goodell, hit back at the NFL.
"We reiterate our concerns about the lack of fair due process, lack of integrity of the investigation and lack of the jurisdictional authority to impose discipline under the collective bargaining agreement," the NFLPA said. "We will continue to pursue all options."
Vilma has also filed a pair of suits in federal court against the NFL, including one for defamation of character.
The scandal has already resulted in heavy punishment for the Saints franchise, including a season-long ban 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 by the league.
The NFLPA claims it has never received detailed or specific evidence from the league of the players' involvement in a pay-to-injure program.
"Although you claimed to have been 'wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,' your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators," Goodell said.
"You elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal."
The bounty scandal has been a black eye for the NFL, which was already trying to improve its image in the face of lawsuits by former players over concussion injuries suffered in the past.
While registering their objection to Goodell's decision, the NFLPA stressed that they did not condone the alleged behavior.
"The NFLPA has never and will never condone dangerous or reckless conduct in football and to date, nothing the league has provided proves these players were participants in a pay-to-injure program."
Concluded Goodell: "While this decision constitutes my final and binding determination under the CBA (collective bargaining agreement), I of course retain the inherent authority to reduce a suspension should facts be brought to my attention warranting the exercise of that discretion.
"The record confirms that each of you was given multiple chances to meet with me to present your side of the story. You are each still welcome to do so." (Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)