My freshman year of college, I had this Political Science professor that had a sense of humor I really identified with. In the middle of one of our midterms was the question “Which organization tries to conduct itself as the world’s governing body?” Jokingly, he made answer ‘C’ Roger Goodell. If I could have that test back today, I think I would switch my answer.
Roger Goodell made it clear when he became commissioner it was going to be an era of assertive regulation. He made an example of Pacman Jones then Chris Henry. Now the list is so long they are no longer examples. He’s thrown the book at so many people the family library must be sorely depleted.
So when ‘Bountygate’ broke, you knew heads were going to roll. Still, Goodell has managed to take it to a level we, once again, thought was unimaginable. Not only did he suspend Jonathan Vilma for the ENTIRE season, he’s suspended players that no longer play for the Saints.
Which now makes it official: Roger Goodell’s punishments for a team bounty program is now hurting other franchises. Other franchises that compete AGAINST the Saints. In what world does that logic make any sense?
Now, Roger, when this story first broke, I was actually on your side. Well, you didn’t have a side yet, but you know what I mean. The implications of a Bounty program are beyond reproach. This past NFL season hung in the balance as the players union refused to compromise on key financial points until more considerations were taken for player safety. Now we find out these same players were offering up cash bonuses to cart one another off the field and we’re supposed to blame the league for the concussion epidemic? I don’t think so.
But like any dictator, Roger Goodell took a situation that was in his favor and pushed it to the point where the violators now appear to be the victims. Goodell and the NFL haven’t just thrown the book and the Saints, they’ve come back, picked the book up, and beat them repeatedly.
But the biggest victim in all this isn’t Jonathan Vilma or Sean Payton or even the entire Saints franchise. No, the biggest victim here is the NFL. I’ve now come to the realization that Roger Goodell has such a vice grip on his football league that he’s starting twist and warp it into something the fans no longer recognize.
Let me just take you through this line of thinking. Let’s say Gregg Williams offered Jonathan Vilma 10,000 dollars to hit Brett Favre so hard he thought sending a photo of his genitals to a team employee was a good idea. Vilma comes through a gap, puts the crown of his helmet in Favre’s facemask and drives him into the ground. The referee throws a flag for a helmet-to-helmet hit on the quarterback and moves Favre’s offense up 15 yards. After the game, the NFL reviews the tape and hands down a two-game suspension to Vilma as well as a $25,000 fine. Then, after the season, Roger Goodell finds out about the bounty program and suspends Vilma for the year.
For ONE infraction on ONE play in ONE game, the New Orleans Saints and/or Jonathan Vilma have been punished not once, not twice, but THREE times. Again, I ask in what world does this make sense?
Now let’s flip the situation. Jonathan Vilma is sitting in that locker room participating in the team meeting when Gregg Williams begins throwing stacks of cash on the table. Vilma sees the big picture as to what is going on and what consequences that could have and decides he doesn’t want to have any part of a bounty program. And yet, he still has 20-plus teammates and an entire coaching staff to answer to. If he takes the money, he ultimately ends up getting suspended for an entire NFL season. If he refuses to participate in the program, he becomes a team pariah and gets traded away from a Super Bowl-winning team. What exactly is he to do?
I’m not defending the bounty program but I am pointing out that these players were stuck between a rock and a hard place. No matter what they did, the situation was ultimately a lose-lose. Roger Goodell made sure of that.
And that’s even assuming the money had any effect on some players. These guys were raised from Pop Warner leagues with a certain level tenacity and a desire to put the ball carrier in the ground. Now all of the sudden they’re a bad guy because a coach wants to threw an extra stack of cash at them and they don’t refuse it? I don’t think so.
I think the real point here is simply enough is enough. Should Payton have received the suspension he did? Maybe. Should Mickey Loomis? Absolutely. But now were punishing football players for playing football, and there comes a point when disciplinary actions do more harm than good.
To me, it seems clear that Roger Goodell and the NFL got so caught up in what became a witch hunt that they ultimately forgot what the initial offense was. The offense here was the creation of the bounty program. Guys like Scott Fujita and Jonathan Vilma didn’t create the program, they simply became beneficiaries of it because they did their job; a job they would’ve done whether or not the program was in place.
Somewhere along the way, the commish forgot about that. And if he continues to act so recklessly, the NFL should forget about him.