Wednesday, March 21, 2012

This Time Goodell Gets It Right With Punishment Of Saints

The news finally came down Wednesday morning on the New Orleans Saints' bounty program after a lengthy investigation. The punishment for former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis has been announced and it is unparalleled in it's severity.

"Bountygate" brought penalties against the Saints organization, coaches and GM that is unprecedented in NFL history. It tops the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from and makes it clear that commissioner Roger Goodell finds the purposeful and complicit organization of injuring players distasteful and egregious.

For once, we agree on something.

This blog has been consistent in it's disdain for Roger Goodell. His inconsistency in punishing players is a point of contention for players and fans alike. So much so that he even comes across at times as impotent, showing favoritism and/or being vindictive. He even seems to have a personal grudge against the Pittsburgh Steelers and, in particular, James Harrison. So, to admit that Goodell actually got something right is like swallowing medicine without the teaspoon of sugar.

The actual sanctions, though, were as follows according to the NFL:

"The New Orleans Saints are fined $500,000. Because the violation involves a competition rule, the Saints will have their second round picks of the 2012 and 2013 NFL drafts taken away."

"Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis is suspended without pay for the first eight regular-season games of the 2012 season."

"Former Saints (and current St. Louis Rams) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is suspended indefinitely from the NFL, effective immediately. Commissioner Goodell will review Coach Williams’ status at the conclusion of the 2012 season and consider whether to reinstate him, and, if so, on what terms. Commissioner Goodell said he will give close attention to the extent to which Coach Williams cooperates with the NFL in any further proceedings."

"Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the 2012 NFL season, effective April 1."

"Saints assistant Head Coach Joe Vitt is suspended without pay for the first six regular-season games of the 2012 season."

"The Saints and the individuals disciplined today are expected to participate in efforts led by the league office to develop programs that will instruct players and coaches at all levels of the game on the need for respect for the game and those who participate in it, on principles of fair play, safety and sportsmanship, and to ensure that bounties will not be part of football at any level."

March 2nd was the date we all heard the announcement of the NFL’s initial findings. It was then that the league office conducted a further investigation, including the meeting of Goodell with several of the key individuals involved, sometimes with subsequent visits. He also met with the leadership of the NFL Players Association and individual players to discuss it.

Along with all of the sanctions levied, the Commissioner also released this statement:

Commissioner Roger Goodell notified the New Orleans Saints today of the discipline that will be imposed on team management for violations of the NFL’s long-standing “bounty” rule that endangered player safety over a three-year period.

Discipline for individual players involved in the Saints’ prohibited program continues to be under review with the NFL Players Association and will be addressed by Commissioner Goodell at a later date. The program included “bounty” payments for “knock-outs” and “cart-offs,” plays on which an opposing player was forced to leave the game. At times, the bounties even targeted specific players by name.

The NFL’s extensive investigation established the existence of an active bounty program on the Saints during the 2009, 2010, and 2011 seasons in violation of league rules, a deliberate effort to conceal the program’s existence from league investigators, and a clear determination to maintain the program despite express direction from Saints ownership that it stop as well as ongoing inquiries from the league office.

“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game,” Commissioner Goodell said. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities. No one is above the game or the rules that govern it. Respect for the game and the people who participate in it will not be compromised.”

“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” Commissioner Goodell continued. “When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”

Regarding the employes and players, Goodell said, “Beyond the clear and continuing violations of league rules, and lying to investigators, the bounty program is squarely contrary to the league’s most important initiatives - enhancing player health and safety and protecting the integrity of the game,”

Goodell also said. “Let me be clear. There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so. Any form of bounty is incompatible with our commitment to create a culture of sportsmanship, fairness, and safety. Programs of this kind have no place in our game and we are determined that bounties will no longer be a part of the NFL.”

He further stated that NFL coaches and supervisory employees need to "communicate openly and candidly with the principal owner and/or his designated representative; to ensure that club ownership is informed on a complete and timely basis of all matters affecting the club’s operations; and to avoid actions that undermine or damage the club’s reputation or operating success.”

Coach Payton knows this. It's in the contract he signed.

Commissioner Goodell will address players separately along with assistance from the NFLPA. Regarding this Goodell said, “While I will not address player conduct at this time, I am profoundly troubled by the fact that players - including leaders among the defensive players - embraced this program so enthusiastically and participated with what appears to have been a deliberate lack of concern for the well-being of their fellow players.”

Goodell further said. “While all club personnel are expected to play to win, they must not let the quest for victory so cloud their judgment that they willingly and willfully target their opponents and engage in unsafe and prohibited conduct intended to injure players.”

One player who is believed to be the player to face the harshest punishment is Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma. He reportedly offered $10,000 to any player who could knock Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees was "speechless" over the sanctions and wants an explanation.

Roger Goodell's response to Brees' demanding an answer regarding the suspensions: "We were lied to"

I agree...for once. Goodell has actually handled this well. But, hey, even a blind pig finds a truffle now and then. (I'm sorry, did I get off track?)

The Saints, though, as an organization was contrite regarding the bounty punishments

Gregg Williams is also quotes as being "shocked but remorseful" over it all.

All in all, the NFL Commissioner laid down a heavy hammer regarding the bounty program, and rightly so. There's simply no place in the already-very-violent NFL where there are full-blown, blatant attempts to "willingly and willfully target" someone to injure them.

Goodell may have caused hair on the back of many necks to rise with his trying to deter and curtail debilitating, career-ending and life threatening hits and overall play. I still maintain that it is because he has been very incongruous in how he doles out his punishments. This time, though, he actually got it right.