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NFL players have bounty suspensions overturned on appeal

New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove all can play in this weekend's NFL season opening games.

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New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, left foreground, and teammate quarterback Drew Brees, right, leave federal court in New Orleans Friday, Aug. 10.

Susan Poag, The Times-Picayune/AP

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The suspensions of Jonathan Vilma and three other players in the NFL's bounty investigation were lifted Friday by a three-member appeals panel and the league reinstated those players a few minutes later.

The panel said Commissioner Roger Goodell did not have jurisdiction to hear the players' appeals of their punishment for their roles in the New Orleans Saints bounty program that paid cash bonuses for hits that injured opponents.

While the ruling allows Saints linebacker Vilma, banned for the 2012 season, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove to play immediately, it does not permanently void their suspensions.

Still, the ruling comes just two days before the first full slate of NFL games this season and is a setback for Goodell and the league.

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