Bountygate: Outrage is NOT Strong Enough!
Many people remember the term Watergate. The term has become synonymous with one of the biggest scandals in American political history.
Watergate is now a byword for the break-in at Democrat National Committee headquarters that occurred 40 years ago in June 1972. You may be saying to yourself: “So what? I’m a New Orleans Saints fan… who cares?”
Don’t be misled by the title of this article, which in fact, will make the case that the actions by the NFL Commissioner have been and continue to be OUTRAGEOUS! Grab a cup of coffee, or a cold one because this will be the longest article I’ve written for this blog. It’s time to put a few things in perspective in this case now known as: Bountygate.
Since the Watergate scandal four decades ago, the media now typically puts a GATE suffix on any incident perceived to be a scandal. Some of the post-Watergate examples are: Iran Contr-Gate, Monica (Lewinski)-Gate, Nipple (Janet Jackson)-Gate, Memo (Dan Rather)-Gate, Tiger (Woods)-Gate, and the list goes on. But the question remains: why would the NFL openly accuse its players of wrongdoing without first taking the time to make sure they have their facts in order? That’s a good question and we have yet to get a solid, ironclad answer.
The NFL Players Association (NFLPA), owners and league officials entered into a new Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) after coming close to having to cancel the 2011 season. “Following the end of the 2008 season, the NFL team owners opted out of the extended 1993 CBA, which caused the agreement to expire at the end of an uncapped 2010 season. The NFLPA again renounced its collective bargaining rights on March 11, 2011, the date the agreement expired, to allow the players to pursue antitrust litigation. The NFL and the players came to terms on a new antitrust settlement on July 25, 2011, and a new CBA was then negotiated and subsequently ratified on August 4, 2011. …Under the new agreement, which runs through 2021, revenue sharing, the most contentious issue during the lockout, was re-designed so that the players must average at least 47 percent of all revenue for the term of the agreement.” (info courtesy of Wikipedia.org) Here is a short clip of the signing ceremony for the 10-year deal:
Before the deal was struck, both sides were playing hardball on their core issues and points of contention. Fan frustration with the protracted process (prior to the deal getting done) brought a tremendous amount of pressure on the NFL and NFLPA to avoid a strike in 2011. In their zeal to reach an agreement, the NFLPA apparently caved in and allowed the NFL Commissioner too much authority in matters relating to player discipline. That provision was so one-sided that the Pittsburgh Steelers’ team voted against it. In an article from CBS Sports, former Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said: "It should be noted that we (Steelers) were the only team who voted against it, and that was a major factor because of how we are fined on our team. In order to go to the appeal committee, we had to go right back to Roger Goddell. So that was one of the big things that we voted NO against because we just felt like it was going to be unfair. But to the rest of the teams that did vote for the CBA, he (Goddell) is in charge, and those are the rules, and that's what you have to abide by because that's what you signed up for."
That, sports fans, is the fly in the ointment.
Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma has sued Roger Goodell for defamation, and has maintained that the NFL appeal process is grossly unfair. The NFL maintains that Vilma’s actions in bringing a lawsuit are improper because he has not fully exhausted the NFL’s appeal process. Is that right? Well, yes it is …TECHNICALLY. But if you examine this more closely, it appears to be smoke and mirrors.
The NFL has not been open and transparent from the outset in making evidence available to the NFLPA, nor has it allowed key witnesses to testify earlier in this so-called Bountygate process. Vilma, feeling that the NFL’s appeal process is an exercise in futility, opted to bring the lawsuit because he believed that the NFL’s argument (that he hasn’t fully exhausted the League’s appeal process) is based on a technicality. Vilma’s defamation lawsuit is intended to clear his name, enable him to be reinstated as a player, and make a clear case that the NFL’s appeal process was not and is not fair and equitable.
I’d like to shift gears for a few moments to zero-in on the NFL’s rationale. The League is saying that because Vilma is not exhausting all means of appeal via its (NFL) appeal process that he has voided his right to a lawsuit. Excuse me??? That is ludicrous and here’s why.
When I served on active duty, I was intimately involved in teaching and facilitating what is known as Military Rights and Responsibilities training (at my duty stations). Back in 1991, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin brought sexual harassment charges against her chain of command, alleging that she was forced to “run the gauntlet” which would allow other male flight officers to grope her sexually. Her grievance was brought because of actions by active duty U.S. Navy aviators at its annual Tailhook Convention in Las Vegas, NV. What most people to this day do not know is that Lieutenant Coughlin did not fully utilize the Navy’s Grievance Procedures as outlined in Navy regulations (OPNAVINST 5354.1). After the incident, Lieutenant Coughlin made her chain of command aware of the alleged wrongdoing, but the supervisors were slow in working to bring justice and resolution to her case. In the end, her objective was achieved, but she didn’t fully follow the letter-of-the-law in the process. Even so, imagine the outrage that would have ensued had the U.S. Navy denied her filing the sexual harassment charges, and ultimately getting satisfactory redress because she had not followed the regulations and procedures to the letter!
While on active duty, I made it a point to ensure that all military members knew the proper procedures to follow in good order and discipline relating to their military rights and responsibilities. But the resolution afforded Navy Lieutenant Paula Coughlin, in the end, was the right thing to do, despite her not fully exhausting established appeal procedures. (See Wikipedia article for an overview of LT Coughlin’s ordeal: Paula Coughlin - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Fast-forward 20 years later to charges levied from the 2011 season. Do we not have a similar situation? After all, the bureaucratic Commissioner and his legal advisors are holding Vilma at bay due to a technicality of his not having fully exhausted the NFL internal appeal process. Are we to ignore the fact that several of his fellow teammates and coaches have voluntarily come forth to testify on his behalf? When the league tries to smear Vilma and others because of things called “Kill the Head”, “cart-offs” etc., WITHOUT taking the time to investigate what such terminology means, it is acting irresponsibly AT BEST. Fundamentally, it is just as wrong to deny Vilma the right to sue for defamation as it would have been for the Navy to have denied LT Coughlin the right to make charges of sexual assault and sexual harassment. The spirit and intent of the law is to mete-out justice; not split hairs based on a technicality!
According to the Sports in Movies; website, as of 2011 there have been sixty-four (64) movies made that are centered around the theme of American football: see link here.
Football is part of our culture and we are very passionate about it. Many fans are so gung-ho about football that they take actions that many consider to be OVERBOARD:
1) buried in a casket with football memorabilia;
2) getting married in football sports gear, or exchanging vows at a football game;
3) infant wear;
4) man cave with their team’s theme, and the list goes on and on.
Whether those things are overboard is a matter of opinion; everyone has the right to do as he/she sees fit. The bottom line is: It’s their money! But when pompous bureaucrats in high places choose to act unilaterally because they TECHNICALLY have the authority, they have lost sight of the fact that the NFL culture does not revolve around them.
Some of the best leaders throughout history did the right thing, NOT because some obscure, legal, technical clause gave them supposed authority. They did the RIGHT THING according to principle, integrity and courage, and let the chips fall where they may.
In this situation, Jonathan Vilma adamantly maintains that the Commissioner has defamed his character by assuming that locker room terminology (kill the head; cart-offs, etc.) should be taken verbatim and the WORST possible scenario assumed. The truth of the matter is: No one knows of a high school in America that has a Homecoming pep rally that DOES NOT have signs and rally songs that promote competitive hyperbole (i.e.: “Destroy Eastside High…” “Bury the Bears…” “Knock Out the Knights…” etc…). Are school coaches and administrators uncivilized and brute beasts for allowing such conduct? When the players get on the field, they play in the game as they were trained. Watch some of this footage from High School:
Consider the following:
“…young men were being killed and badly maimed while playing football. In 1905, a total of 18 American boys lost their lives in football, and 154 more were seriously injured. Four years later Army’s splendid left tackle, Eugene Byrne, was fatally injured during the Army-Harvard game. In the middle of the 1905 season, President Theodore Roosevelt summoned representatives of Harvard, Yale and Princeton to a White House conference. An outdoor man himself and a lover of sports, Roosevelt was outspoken in his condemnation of brutal play. He said: ‘Brutality and foul play should receive the same summary punishment given to a man who cheats at cards.’ At Columbia the sport was abolished –not to be resumed until 1915. Stanford and California dropped football and picked up Rugby instead. …deliberately dirty play still claimed its victims. The climax came in Pennsylvania’s game against Swarthmore in 1905. The mainstay of Swarthmore’s line was Bob Maxwell, a 250-pounder of great speed and agility. …Maxwell was hit on almost every play. He staggered from the field a physical wreck. President Roosevelt saw a picture of him (Maxwell) in that condition, and angrily notified the leaders of the sport that if the brutality was not removed from football he would ban the game by Presidential edict. The result was the historic meeting of January 12, 1906, out of which came what is known today as the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Rules Committee, which regulates intercollegiate sports. …the new regulations formulated in 1906, 1910,and 1912 were the ones that opened up the game, abolished brutality and made football more exciting to both player and spectator. It would remain for logical and inventive coaches to develop the modern game with its thrilling combination of speed, power and deception.” (The Story of Football, Random House, 1972 edition, taken from chapter: “Football Nearly Perishes”)
The above brief historical summary exposes the 800 lb gorilla in the room: 1) Americans love football; 2) Americans hate unnecessary risk to life and health; 3) Football’s popularity has (obviously) grown, despite the risks; 4) Many have capitalized on football’s popularity and the rough, competitive nature of the game. Consider the CULTURE of hard-hitting in the NFL. If you examine the many videos produced by the National Football League over the past 50 years, you will find that among the most popular were those that glorified HARD HITS. And while you won’t see those videos being sold at the NFL.com website, you can find a lot of footage (from NFL films) that highlights hard hitting on the gridiron. Here is a segment from the NFL Films series called NFL’s Crunch Course (A Course In Hard Hitting):
There is yet another factor in Bountygate that is over-the-top: The fan base of the New Orleans Saints. The Saints’ fans had endured a long legacy of being the laughingstock of all sports franchises, let alone the NFL. But that seemingly hapless past has elevated the level of appreciation that its fan base has for its recent success. The Saints’ 2005 season was not only dismal from a W-L record (3-13) standpoint, but having to live out that season in the aftermath of the greatest natural disaster in U.S. history made it unbelievably harsh. And yet, despite insurmountable odds, they made a comeback, ushered in by a new head coach, a refurbished Superdome, and a revitalized fan base:
When Commissioner Goddell puts gasoline on the Bountygate fire, he is not only damaging Jonathan Vilma and the players implicated, he is also castigating and disrespecting the Saints organization, its loyal fan base, and its remaining players.
With respect to taking care of its players, the Saints are second to none. The Saints and the Pittsburgh Steelers are the only two NFL teams to have its own (team) Hall of Fame. Former Saints Safety/Special Teams captain Steve Gleason, who has recently been diagnosed with Lou Gherig’s Disease (ALS), has not only been embraced in many ways by the Saints’ fan base, but the Saints organization has also looked after him in a variety of ways. The team plans to unveil a statue of Gleason, commemorating his infamous blocked punt in the Saints Return to the Dome game vs. the Falcons (Sep 2006) at a special ceremony in November 2012.
In all of this, the Saints coaching staff has been resolute and steadfast in its support for Vilma and the other players implicated. Interim Head Coach Joe Vitt has emphatically denied any malicious intent on the part of Vilma or others to intentionally inflict injury to an opponent. In this day and age of watching your own butt and political correctness, Vitt has shown unusual character and fortitude in the process:
If words mean anything, and you analyze Commissioner Goddell’s statement from March 2012, it can be discerned that he acted hastily, ill-advisedly, and without conclusive evidence:
“We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game. We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities," said Goodell, whose league faces more than 20 concussion-related lawsuits brought by hundreds of former players. "No one is above the game or the rules that govern it." (Roger Goddell, NFL Commissioner)
Link: Saints coach suspended for season over bounties - Boston.com
Let’s analyze the Commissioner’s statement (above) piece-by-piece:
1.. ”We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game.”
Response: This is true. But the NFL has shown NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER that Vilma, other players or coaching staff did or condoned ANYTHING that violated this principle.
2.. “We will not tolerate conduct or a culture that undermines those priorities,"
Response : Again, the NFL has not made its case with one shred of evidence that proves those accused were guilty of anything that compromised item #1. What needs to be differentiated is FACTS from INTERPRE-facts. The NFL is banking on the fact that most will accept the latter for the former.
3.. “No one is above the game or the rules that govern it.”
Interestingly, the NFL Commissioner does not play the game; the players do. With that in mind, how can he effectively GOVERN the game when he does not take a fair and open & transparent approach? The axiom that we should NEVER compromise is: Innocent until PROVEN guilty.
All told, Jonathan Vilma, the New Orleans Saints team, staff and organization, as well as the loyal Saints’ fan base have made us all proud through the adversity. Only time will tell whether the NFL Commissioner will double-down on his adamant approach, or do the right thing: Reassess, reevaluate, regroup, and then RECANT on Bountygate. Bottom line: It is often more important where you’re going than where you’ve been; especially when where you’ve been is an embarrassing road to nowhere.
Mr. Goddell: Are you listening?
Very good read!
Very nice read
I wish I had time to read this.
A great read! And Halo is famous yet again!
Great article. It's too bad the evil sports propaganda network doesn't have one writer or t.v. analyst with the cajones to write an article like this. The words journalistic and integrity never seem to get together anymore.
... this should be required reading for NFL fans. Good article.
Your remarks are encouraging, and appreciated. Thanks.
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