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Why the Saints bounty penalties are too harsh

this is a discussion within the Saints Community Forum; As a lawyer and as a NFL fan, I can't say I am a fan of the NFL-enacted penalties against the New Orleans Saints for bounties and the cover-up of the bounty program. Though much has been said and written ...

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Old 03-28-2012, 08:53 AM   #1
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Why the Saints bounty penalties are too harsh

As a lawyer and as a NFL fan, I can't say I am a fan of the NFL-enacted penalties against the New Orleans Saints for bounties and the cover-up of the bounty program. Though much has been said and written about this, nothing really captures my fan-focused thinking. Here's some thoughts:

1. Bounties are bad. I'm not defending bounties, or that it is a good idea to lie or cover up things to the NFL Commissioner's office. Just getting that thought out of the way.

2. What is the purpose of NFL punishment? The NFL, unlike the legal system, doesn't have a set of penalties for different offenses. They are just making things up as they go along.

In this matter, the NFL enacted by far the harshest penalty they have done to any team (details of findings and penalties from NFL.com): Suspending Gregg Williams indefinitely (presumably a harm to the Rams if you like him as a defensive coordinator), suspending Sean Payton for the season (costing roughly a reported $5.8 to $7 million in salary), suspending GM Mickey Loomis for the first 8 games, assistant coach Joe Vitt for first 6 games, losing a 2nd rd pick this year and next, and a $500,000 fine for the team, and penalties of unknown severity to various players, some of whom may have already fined for player hits.

These harsh penalties should be a concern whether you are a Saints fan or not. If the NFL commissioner can do this to the Saints, he can do this to any team (and their fans). From the looks of it, the purpose of punishment for the NFL looks to be vengeance not deterrence: Anger about not changing the bounty program in 2009 after a warning, and covering up the extent and duration of the bounty programs.

Certainly, the aim of the NFL's punishment isn't just deterrence. You could do punishment that is less of half as bad as the currently enacted one along with the public shaming, and it would make sure that the "culture of bounties" and cover-ups ended once and for all. If you don't believe me, how much of your salary taken away would deter you or others from bad actions?

3. Arbitrary, strong punishments bad for fans. The problem with vengeance instead of deterrence apparently being the model for NFL punishments is that it hurts NFL fans. Saints fans had nothing to do with the bounty program or cover-up.

I know what it is like to pay large quantities of money to watch bad football (paid to watch the David Carr Texans from day 1 of franchise), and I only pay for one ticket and a parking pass. Plenty of fans pay a ton more. Maybe the Saints can overcome these penalties, but I don't think Goodell remembers what it is like to write a big, fat, painful check to watch bad football. It's Saints fans that are paying to eradicate the wide spread practice of bounties, and the vengeance over the cover-up. And they aren't at fault.

Who advocates for fan interests? It isn't the NFL. Saints fans weren't mentioned once in the NFL discussion of the penalties.

4. The investigation process and appeal. So what if Sean Payton thinks the punishment is too harsh or believes the NFL investigation was not as "conclusive" as the NFL says it was? The appeal goes to the Commissioner. How do you say that the punishment and investigation sucked to the guy who did the punishment and investigation?

"Delicately" isn't delicate enough of a word.

I've been involved with in-house corporate investigations. I've tried cases. And what I've learned is that the result of investigations and litigation is never the God's-eye, one-truth of a situation. It's an approximation. Some approximations are better than others. The best version of truth you can find given the differing memories, interests of different people.

Sean Payton in his brief recent statement about the penalties says that he does not believe he lied to the NFL Commissioner in his two trips to see him. It is quite possible that Goodell thinks he did, and Payton thinks he didn't. But given that Goodell is the judge, jury and appeals court, it's not likely that Payton's view matters.

It's hard to investigate anything when people are afraid of the results of the investigation. This is especially true when punishments are just made up on the fly. Like investigations using torture, you sometimes end up hearing what people think you want to hear. Or people who have knowledge lay low and try not to get involved.

And this situation isn't done. To approximate justice, the NFL is continuing to investigation individual player penalties and possible other team involvement in bounties. I can't say I am a big fan of the grandstanding, league commissioner as sheriff model. Never have been. (See this old blog post from 2009).

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Old 03-28-2012, 09:17 AM   #2
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"From the looks of it, the purpose of punishment for the NFL looks to be vengeance not deterrence: Anger about not changing the bounty program in 2009 after a warning, and covering up the extent and duration of the bounty programs"

I agree. And there's no precedent for Goodell's penalties.

"So what if Sean Payton thinks the punishment is too harsh or believes the NFL investigation was not as "conclusive" as the NFL says it was? The appeal goes to the Commissioner. How do you say that the punishment and investigation sucked to the guy who did the punishment and investigation?"

By the way, who holds Goodell accountable for not acting when he was first informed of the MULTIPLE bounty systems in progress around he NFL?

Was his judgement fueled by anger?

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Old 03-28-2012, 03:56 PM   #3
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I agree 100% except for the vengeance part. I don't think the NFL really cares. This would have been a slap on the wrist, even with the cover up, except for the fact that the league is making every effort it can to show it cares about the safety of the players.

Even though the league fought the players on safety during the last round of CBA negotiations - even though the league wants 18 games, a clear increased player risk. The league needs to be able to stand up in court and "say" it cares.

Any right-thinking person can see it's about money and has nothing whatsoever to do with player safety.
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Old 03-28-2012, 04:43 PM   #4
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The owners can vote him out when his contract is up but I doubt that is going to happen. He is an extension of them. He has no reason to work against the grain. The goal is to make the game as safe as fans will tolerate. This will lower liability and increase profits.
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Old 03-28-2012, 11:41 PM   #5
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I'll make one last point on this topic and I'll jump off it (until the player suspension come out). I have a couple football players in my classes. I won't say which one specifically said this because I don't want to get him in trouble. But one of my student-athletes told me (when I asked) that talk of which injury-prone star of the other team needs to be "taken out" is ALWAYS part of pre-game prep. The only difference in a "bounty system" is the money. The risk of injury does not go up one bit.

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Old 03-28-2012, 11:45 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by G504 View Post
I'll make one last point on this topic and I'll jump off it (until the player suspension come out). I have a couple football players in my classes. I won't say which one specifically said this because I don't want to get him in trouble. But one of my student-athletes told me (when I asked) that talk of which injury-prone star of the other team needs to be "taken out" is ALWAYS part of pre-game prep. The only difference in a "bounty system" is the money. The risk of injury does not go up one bit.
Exactly, because that's football.
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Old 03-28-2012, 11:54 PM   #7
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Yeah I posted this article earlier because I didn't see it anywhere on here until now. Guess I did that for nothing, lol.

But yeah, I've been screaming this very point from the beginning. Tired of all these self righteous people trying to say that the Saints wouldn't have been so harshly penalized if they hadn't hid the truth. Teams lie all the time, but regardless you can't judge differently because you're angry. And making up rules as Goodell is famous far, is very dangerous for everyone who loves football.
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Old 03-29-2012, 12:06 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by saintsfan1976 View Post
"From the looks of it, the purpose of punishment for the NFL looks to be vengeance not deterrence: Anger about not changing the bounty program in 2009 after a warning, and covering up the extent and duration of the bounty programs"

I agree. And there's no precedent for Goodell's penalties.

"So what if Sean Payton thinks the punishment is too harsh or believes the NFL investigation was not as "conclusive" as the NFL says it was? The appeal goes to the Commissioner. How do you say that the punishment and investigation sucked to the guy who did the punishment and investigation?"

By the way, who holds Goodell accountable for not acting when he was first informed of the MULTIPLE bounty systems in progress around he NFL?

Was his judgement fueled by anger?
He doesn't want to open that can of worms because he's afraid of all the people who will ask "why didn't you investigate this a long time ago", and they'll cry about players suffering long term effects from taking "cheap shots"... Blah, blah, blah.

But it was ok for him to hunt down the Saints and pretend this was the only bounty of it's nature. And that, I am firmly convinced, had everything to do with an angry agenda against our team. He needed a scapegoat to champion his new "player safety" image, and the rest is history.

If I had a nickel for every time I heard that, the NFL would fine and suspend me.
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