Sunday, May 6, 2012

Bounty Scandal, Concussions Encompass Past, Present & Future Of NFL

The confluence of events this first week of May has to have Roger Goodell's head spinning.

There was the tragic passing of former NFL linebacking great, Junior Seau, there were the suspensions Goodell himself laid down on the Bountygate scandal, there was the class action lawsuit against the NFL from former players saying that they weren't protected for so long, and the NFLPA has filed a grievance vs. NFL challenging Commissioner Goodell's authority to suspend the four players he did.

Don't forget that DeMaurice Smith is caught between a rock and a hard place, too, because he has to defend players...against players. Players who put out bounties on fellow players. Just as importantly, players who are now railing against being fined and/or suspended.

But, despite the fact that Goodell remains historically inconsistent in matters of meting out punishments, I maintain that he got this one right.

Their grievance is of interest because there are over 50,000 pages of evidence in the NFL report. Add to the fact that they signed a CBA that gives Goodell the power to hand out these sanctions. So, yes, suspended Saints players will get the "due process" for which the union bargained. But you get caught with your hand in the proverbial cookie jar and you have to expect it to get slapped. -

"The way I look at it, Steelers [are] only ones who can complain about Goodell's power. 31 other teams could've voted against CBA but didn't. #karma" - Mark Kaboly, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Exactly, Mark. Steelers players are doing just that by the way. There was quite a Twitter buzz over the suspensions assessed by Goodell from Steelers Ryan Clark, LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. -

An example of how the Steelers players reacted is from Ryan Clark: “@RealRClark25: Wonder why the team got the least penalties in Bounty Gate! Think about who elected & rewarded the commish, it's the owners of the teams!”

Woodley and Harrison had not-so-dissimilar sentiments. Not unexpected considering there's no love lost between Goodell and the Steelers, especially James Harrison.

The reality, though, is that Goodell does have the power to levy fines and suspensions. He also has the power to hear appeals, if the NFL is treating Bountygate as an "off the field" issue that is. But if it's "on the field" then appeals go to an independent arbitrator.

The NFL is making sure those bases are covered too, though. Mary Jo White, a New York-based attorney who formerly was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, was hired by league to review the bounty scandal. She calls the evidence against the players "quite strong."

“It is a rare situation where you have multiple independent sources with first-hand knowledge,” Mary Jo White, said in a conference call with reporters. “This is not something based on what somebody else said to them. It is an unusually strong record on which the commissioner acted.” -

If the players are so vehement over the suspensions because they're innocent of any and all allegations, why didn't they meet with Goodell to proclaim their innocence? -

Could it be because Hargrove provided empirical evidence when he signed a declaration that was submitted by the NFLPA? -

The players involved are on a real slippery slope here. They haven't done themselves any favors leading up to this and have instead tried to back door the situation by attempting to steer review process away from Goodell. -

That having been said, there is support for some of Goodell's power being taken away. ESPN's Mike Hill and Mark Schlereth were very blunt in tweeting their opinions on the matter.

“@HillSchlereth: "They need to change who hands out the punishments. It needs to be someone independent outside of the NFL."

Personally, I agree. It's my opinion that Goodell suspends players based upon the level of embarassment to the "shield" and not on actual infractions. It might even seem to the average or ancillary fan that Goodell has no rhyme or reason with regard to his discipline.

When Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the beginning of 2010, there was no arrest, basically no evidence and no conviction. On the other hand, Tank Johnson was arrested in Chicago for possession of a handgun in his sport utility vehicle. "It is unlawful to carry or possess any firearm in any vehicle or concealed on or about the person, except on one’s land or in one’s home or fixed place of business" in Illinois.

Johnson pled guilty to a misdemeanor gun charge and was sentenced. On February 12, 2006, Johnson, while still on probation, was charged with aggravated assault and resisting arrest after allegedly verbally threatening a police officer.

On December 14, 2006, police officers searched Johnson's home in Gurnee, Illinois, and discovered that he possessed six firearms, including two assault rifles. According to police reports, some of the guns were loaded and there were children in the house.

Johnson was even forced to appear in Circuit court to request permission to leave the State of Illinois to travel to Miami, Florida to play in Super Bowl XLI. Johnson met with Goodell to determine punishment for his off-the-field transgressions, with Goodell eventually imposing an eight-game suspension, with the possibility of a reduction to six games if Johnson followed certain requirements for violating the NFL player conduct policy.

Four games for no arrest and no case, but six games for having enough artillery to fortify Che Guevara's resistance movement? Not to mention child endangerment.

But Roethlisberger is the franchise quarterback of one of the league's premiere teams. Tank Johnson is...quick, name his draft year. Ok, well, name the position he plays. Exactly. Like I said, level of embarassment to the "shield" trumps actual infractions.

So, it's no surprise that Goodell came down harder on the Saints organization than he did the Patriots' brass: the player safety issue is his main trumpet call. The Bounty scandal directly defies that. Goodell wants a game with fewer paralyzing, career ending and even life ending injuries as his legacy. So he will react stronger when the "shield" is tarnished.

I understand, even applaud, WHAT he's doing, I simply don't agree HOW he's doing it. Wanting player safety is admirable, as no one wants to see another Mike Webster, Dave Duerson or Junior Seau. But too many fans, players and even officials are confused over what the rules actually say. Officials will flag a player for a supposed illegal and finable hit, but no fine comes. Then there will be a hit that the commentators question or that fans boo over because of no flag was thrown, but that receives a fine that Tuesday. Goodell has everyone confused and it affects his being able to completely establish a system that everyone can follow. Or even wants to follow.

Goodell and the NFL need to be more proactive with regard to both the clarification of the rules regarding defenseless, helmet-to-helmet and quarterback hits as well as advances in helmet technology itself. The fining of players for what are deemed illegal hits is reactive and therefore does not equal player safety. The rules on how and where to hit so as to maintain player safety are stated in the rule book, yes. But, as I said, they are incomplete and/or contradictory. All fines do is remind the players to adhere to rules they don't completely understand in the first place. Not to mention the fact that those rules apply to defensive players and not to offensive players. A defensive player cannot lead with his helmet, but a running back can lower his head and lead with his helmet to "attack" the defender. Again, contradictory.

With regard to helmet technology, though, I don't know it will ever advance to the point where the players won't be affected at all. As an NFL lineman once said, being on the offensive or defensive line is like being in a car crash 60 times a day. Well, is every car crash straight forward? Are not many of them from various angles? Can the one hitting often also receive injuries from the "crash"? The analogy is very apt, and can be expanded to include all such tackles, when you consider that few tackles are ever completely "head-on", there is always some form of torque involved that can adversely affect the head, neck and back, and both players can be hurt by a hit. Case in point: 2008 Ravens-Steelers AFC Championship game, safety Ryan Clark launches into Willis McGahee and both stayed down several minutes. - 

Now, don't get me wrong, that tackle was textbook and was legal at the time. He lead with the shoulder and the helmet contact was secondary and inevitable. But it's an example of the point being made. The NFL is an inherently violent game and there are certain aspects of it that are too dynamic to completely control.

It's true that the human body was not meant to endure that aforementioned inherent violence, but the players know what they're getting involved with when they sign up. That hasn't stopped hundreds of players from filing a class action lawsuit against the NFL for concussions received and for the NFL not taking proper precautions to protect them.

It's not something, per se, that Goodell oversaw, but he still feels the brunt of it as it falls into his lap. Especially since his emphasis has been on concussions and player safety. Because of this, are there post-traumatic stress lawsuits coming as well? Former New York Giants defensive lineman Leonard Marshall wrote a book about concussions and the other effects of playing in the NFL. He sat down for an interview with Amarie of to discuss these very things. -

Amarie can also be found on Twitter at @AmarieSCF and on Facebook at the Amarie SportsChat page. -!/amarie.sportschat

The future of the NFL may be quite different in the next ten years if more and more studies and books come out regarding concussions and their long-term effects. Whether it becomes one that's overly cautious to the point of testing players after every game or not remains to be seen. Regardless, the Saints Bounty scandal has had at least a hand in seeing to that coming to fruition. And to Roger Goodell being right in the middle of the head spinning controversies.