NFL.comNew Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma has been suspended for the 2012 season, as the NFL handed down its player discipline Wednesday for the Saints’ pay-for-performance “bounty” scandal… Three other players — Scott Fujita, Anthony Hargrove, Will Smith — in addition to Vilma were notified that they have been suspended without pay for conduct detrimental to the NFL… The discipline breaks down, per a league release, as follows:

• Linebacker Jonathan Vilma of the Saints is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective immediately per league policy for season-long suspensions.

• Linebacker Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) is suspended without pay for the first three games.

• Defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) is suspended without pay for the first eight games.

• Will Smith of the Saints is suspended without pay for the first four games.

Please, Ginger Hammer, don’t hurt ‘em!  Wow, this pretty much proves the point I’ve been making all along that Bountygate is the biggest scandal to hit the NFL in our lifetimes.  Nothing else even comes close [tips a glance in John Harbaugh's direction].  I mean, you could try to make a case for Art Schlichter since he got banned for life, but he was just one guy.  This, plus the suspension of the coaches, proves the Taints were involved in a vast conspiracy that went all the way to the top.  And if this many guys are taking the fall for it, you know there have to be lots more that just didn’t get caught in the commissioner’s dragnet.  And I have to applaud Goodell for doing the right thing here.

The problem is you can’t even broach this subject without some internet cowboy or phony talk radio tough guy saying this is just another example of the pussification of the NFL and how they’re turning it into flag football and why don’t we start putting dresses on them blah, blah, blah.  When the truth is NO ONE wants to take the hitting out of football.  No one wants to put dresses on players.  (Not even Lingerie League players.  Especially not Lingerie League players.  But the fact is, you can’t have players paying each other to cheap shot others out of games.  Maybe that worked with the ’70s Raiders or the ’90s Cowboys or whatever, but the game needs to evolve.  Players are huger, stronger and faster than they ever were.  It’s sped up and gotten dangerous beyond anything anyone could’ve imagined 30 years ago.  Dick Butkus was arguably the most dominant hitter in football history.  Compared to his contemporaries he looked like a man among boys.  And he was 6-3, 245.  Jake Bequette, a middling prospect the Pats took with the 90th pick a week ago, is 6-5 1/2, 280. You can no sooner turn these loose unchecked to destroy each other, or use Leather-Helmet-Day-Rules any more than you can drive a BMW with Model T seatbelts or send guys into a 2012 battlefield wearing medieval armor.

But the major point is that suspending these guys isn’t destroying the game, it’s saving it.  The NFL has tort lawyers coming at if from all directions like ninjas.  There are actually crusading buttinskis out there saying it’s time to start thinking about banning tackle football altogether like it’s greyhound racing or something.  So while all decent, right-thinking Americans are for keeping the hard hits and clean contact in football, Jonathan Vilma and these other miscreants picked the wrong goddamned decade to run a “Cash for Concussions” program.  @JerryThornton1