For NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, actions speak softer than words in bountygate
Here's the question of the moment. And the answer. What does the quarterback of the New Orleans Saints think of the commissioner of the National Football League?
"Nobody trusts him," Drew Brees told Sports Illustrated last week.
Quarterback Drew Brees plays with his son Bowen Christopher as his wife Brittany, and oldest son Baylen Robert chase balls Wednesday following practice at Saints Camp in Metairie.
Tell us more, Drew.
"I'm not talking about a DUI, or using a gun in a strip club, which are pretty clear violations. I think there're too many times where the league has come to its decision in a case before calling a guy in. The interview is just a fašade. I think now if a guy has to come in and talk to Roger (Goodell), he'll be very hesitant because he'll think the conclusion has already been reached."
Brees was telling SI about the manner in which Goodell handled bountygate, a pay-for-performance scandal, involving the seasons of 2009-10-11, which resulted in the suspension of coaches and players, most notably Sean Payton and Jonathan Vilma for the season.
You know all that, of course.
So here's another question?
When did Goodell reach a decision on bountygate?
That's easy to answer. It was the day Gregg Williams confessed.
Listen to the words of the former Saints defensive coordinator, bountygate's architect: "It was a terrible mistake. We knew it was wrong when we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role."
Gregg Williams had handed Roger Goodell a green light, a slam dunk.
As many as 27 Saints players were said to have pooled money used for paying players for big plays, big hits.
From the lips of Williams, you heard such buzzwords as "cart-offs," "whacks," "knockouts" and "remember me" shots.
What did Goodell do?
All he had to do was visit the rule book: "No bonus or award may be directly or indirectly offered, promised, announced or paid to a player to inflict injury on an opposing player."
Meanwhile, as you might expect, stories flowed.
Did a group of Saints players have as much as $50,000 set aside for bounty bonuses?
Did Jonathan Vilma put $10,000 on the table, saying before the Saints faced the Vikings for the right to play in the Super Bowl: "It's for anyone who can take Brett Favre out."
On and on it went.
Many months later, Vilma is in court, still asking, "Where's the proof?"
In March, for Roger Goodell, thanks to Gregg Williams, it already had become a matter of who do you suspend, for how long.
Said the commissioner: "I'm troubled by the fact leaders among Saints 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 certain players."
So how guilty were the Saints in dispensing injury?
Not guilty, according to an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times by Kevin Hassett and Stan Veuger of the American Enterprise Institute.
Here's what it tells us: Of the 32 teams in the NFL, San Diego was the only team that "injured" fewer players than the Saints during the 2009-11 "bountygate" seasons.
The Saints "injured" the third-fewest in '09, the 15th-fewest in '10, the third-fewest in '11.
"The NFL's case against Saints players," Hassett and Veuger wrote, "should require documentation that the Saints injured significantly more players than average. The data-driven answer is a resounding no."
What did bountygate prove?
While I'm sure the severity of Goodell's punishment, suspending players and coaches for a total of 77 games, was influenced by ongoing legal cases the league is facing on the matter of concussions, it did prove one thing.
In this case, it proved "buzzwords," courtesy of Gregg Williams, spoke louder than "deeds" on the field, courtesy of Gregg Williams' defense.
I'm ready to be vindicated.
Only vindication is going to happen on the field when we curb stomp the rest of the league.
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