It’s finally over. The long and winding road of intrigue, deception, innuendo and fallacy has come to an abrupt and unceremonious end in the New Orleans Saints bounty case. As it turns out things couldn’t be any worse for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Former league Commissioner Paul Tagliabue announced his ruling Tuesday, vacating the suspensions of the players involved. For months this has been battled in and out of courtrooms, the media and in league offices. Yet without fanfare a simple press release sealed the players freedom and the possible end to Goodell’s tenure.
Certainly the Commissioner’s power has been thwarted and compromised. The club he has wielded since his regime began is now a twig. No longer will he be taken seriously in the fans,players and possibly, the owners eyes. Which means he is only a figurehead.
Goodell laid down the law on Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who initially had been suspended the whole season. Saints defensive end Will Smith, Cleveland linebacker Scott Fujita and the free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove received shorter suspensions.
Goodell made a determination these players “intentionally” accepted money for injuring opposing players during games, including Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre in the 2010 NFC Championship game. One has to wonder if this case would have come to the NFL offices had it not been Favre in the middle.
Tagliabue, in his ruling, found the players’ conduct was detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays, which included hard tackles. However the best the league could do was fine the players, not suspend them.
Tagliabue felt “this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.” He failed to explain how the contamination happened. Sean Payton and Gregg Williams have not spoken since their suspensions. The Saints have withheld comment as an organization. Only the players voiced their innocence and other spoke up for them, including Saints QB Drew Brees. Yet Tagliabue affirmed the factual findings Goodell made in the case.
His release, prepped by Greg Aiello, the publicist for the league, actually gave the win to both sides while ruling in favor of the players. This can be the spin, yet public opinion sees it differently. Fans don’t care if there was a bounty or not.
In reality, fans wonder why Goodell made this such a media circus. Fans watch football for devastating hits. Since it’s inception, the game has been predicated on hitting the opposing players as hard as you can. Knocking players out of the game is the goal of many teams. This case was no different.
Fans see incentive laden player contracts and wonder why the Commissioner ruled with an iron fist. He seemed to stake his reputation and position on making this the hallmark of his career. Instead, he know looks like a vindictive ruler that had ulterior motives against these players. Including Fujita, who was a member of the Players Association committee.
It’s interesting Tagliabue’s ruling comes at a time when the NFL is reeling from the Kansas City and Dallas incidents over the past two weekends. Like a politician, the NFL always uses it’s resources to promote the league and diffuse controversy. What better way to shut off he league’s responsibilities to these situations than to end one of the the biggest scandal’s a Major sports league’s Commissioner has ever been involved in.
Where does Goodell and the league go from here? Since 2009, Goodell has tried to legislate legitimate hitting out of the game. Quarterbacks are a protected species, receivers crossing over the middle are now “defenseless.” Now he wants to eliminate kickoffs in the most ridiculous way ever, and blocking below the waist might be banned starting next season.
It’s agreed Goodell is looking out for the league. His motives are to keep those players on the field that bring in the most money and increase profits to the owners. That’s why it’s hypocritical Goodell seems to be concerned with injuries when his motives are to increase the regular season to 18 games.
Where does Goodell stand now? Owners may not lack confidence in him yet, but they will. Every move he makes will looked at, scrutinized and questioned. No longer will he be able to issue a ruling without all wondering what is behind it. “Bounty gate” was a media fiasco and the NFL comes out of it looking weaker for the first time.
Goodell may weather this storm. But the next time will be harder to dry off.