If nothing else, this season has demonstrated a limit to Roger Goodell's stubbornness.
Roger Goodell went and got Daddy.
Give him credit for that, the commissioner recognizing he needed to step away from the discipline process in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty scandal. The public was increasingly suspicious, the players were outright hostile and anyone with even a remote interest in seeing a fair, impartial appeals process was simply appalled that the man responsible for presiding over the appeal was the same one who imposed the sentence.
So the league’s current commissioner went and got the league’s former commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, to preside over the appeals hearing. Apparently Bud Selig was busy.
If nothing else, this season has demonstrated a limit to Goodell’s stubbornness. He showed that when the league brought back the regular referees after three weeks of increasingly problematic officiating from the replacements. And now, he’s removed himself from the appeals process for the four players disciplined in this case: linebacker Jonathan Vilma and defensive end Will Smith, who are still with the Saints, and linebacker Scott Fujita and defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove, who are no longer with the team.
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But now that Goodell has given up trying to impose his interpretation of the case, it’s impossible not to wonder just what took so long?
We’re almost halfway through a season that is already wrecked in New Orleans. Hargrove has yet to work this year, Fujita’s career is in jeopardy from a neck injury, and we don’t have any better understanding of the players’ culpability in this whole situation.
We know Gregg Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator, acted unconscionably. That became clear when filmmaker Sean Pamphilon released an audio tape of Williams’ speech to his team before last season’s playoff game against San Francisco. He suggested “killing the head” of one 49er and taking out the knee ligament of another. It wasn’t just unsportsmanlike, it was morally abhorrent. Anyone want to dispute whether Williams’ indefinite suspension is appropriate?
The issue is a little more muddied when it comes to the players and their responsibility for the actions that occurred in an environment created by a coach.
Did they contribute to a pool of money paid out for specific types of plays? This doesn’t appear to be in that much dispute.
Did some of those payouts come for knocking a player out of the game? The NFL certainly says so.
Did a player get paid that bonus if the hit was later ruled illegal or he was fined? No one has proved this to any reasonable extent.
Those are significant questions, and the league’s attempts to answer them have only led to more questions. The league released a video including what it alleged was Hargrove referencing a payout for potentially knocking an opponent out of the game. Hargrove denied it was his voice.
The league identified former Vikings lineman Jimmy Kennedy as the player who informed former Minnesota coach Brad Childress of a bounty the Saints placed upon Brett Favre, then the Vikings starting quarterback in January 2010 for the NFC Championship Game. Kennedy repeatedly and adamantly denied passing along that information.
It has been seven months since the league first announced it was investigating the Saints, more than five since punishments were handed down and yet the league has failed to bring closure to the issue.
Maybe that can occur now that Goodell has removed himself from the appeals proceeding. But tagging in his predecessor in Tagliabue doesn’t just present a potential solution, it points out the problems of Goodell’s approach the past seven months.
Danny O’Neil: 206-464-2364 or firstname.lastname@example.org
|Sept. 9||at Arizona||L, 20-16|
|Sept. 16||Dallas||W, 27-7|
|Sept. 24||Green Bay||W, 14-12|
|Sept. 30||at St. Louis||L, 19-13|
|Oct. 7||at Carolina||W, 16-12|
|Oct. 14||N. England||W, 24-23|
|Oct. 18||at San Fran.||L, 13-6|
|Oct. 28||at Detroit||10 a.m.|
|Nov. 4||Minnesota||1 p.m.|
|Nov. 11||N.Y. Jets||1 p.m.|
|Nov. 25||at Miami||10 a.m.|
|Dec. 2||at Chicago||10 a.m.|
|Dec. 9||Arizona||1:25 p.m.|
|Dec. 16||at Buffalo||1 p.m.|
|Dec. 23||S. Francisco||1:25 p.m.|
|Dec. 30||St. Louis||1:25 p.m.|
|All times subject to change|