Putting aside all of the bloviating hyperbole from sports journalists who seem all too eager to brandish their pitchforks, the hypocritical pronouncements about protecting the safety of players, and the notion that the NFL is somehow “sending a message” that it will no longer tolerate players incentivizing one another to take out their opponents (at least when the incentive is in contravention of salary cap requirements), Roger Goodell’s “smoking gun” against New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton seems to be that Payton acknowledged receiving an e-mail from Mike Orstein that read, “PS Greg Williams put me down for $5000 on Rogers [sic].”

That’s it.

That’s Goodell’s damning evidence.

Sean Payton acknowledged receiving this e-mail, which apparently was also sent to other members of the Saints organization as well, considering Orstein’s postscript wasn’t directed to Coach Payton but to Greg Williams. Williams, incidentally, has taken full responsibility for and ownership of the so-called bounty program, something he also, allegedly, employed while coaching for the Washington Redskins and the Buffalo Bills. Neither of those teams, by the way, have faced any scrutiny; no one is calling for those teams to place asterisks next to their wins. Before ever investigating whether this practice also occurred in other organizations, Goodell imposed stunningly draconian sanctions against the New Orleans Saints– and indeed, by extension, their entire fan base, specifically the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana, who directly subsidize the National Football League.

I don’t intend to come across as a naive apologist for Sean Payton, and I certainly don’t endorse or agree in any way, shape, or form with the bounty program– though I think it has been ridiculously overhyped by sports journalists and the media, including, most unfortunately, Jeff Duncan of The Times-Picayune. At the very least, Payton probably lied about being ignorant of Greg Williams’s conduct. But I can’t really prove that, and no matter how hard he may try, neither can Roger Goodell. Again, Goodell’s only real evidence of Payton’s complicity is that Payton received an e-mail that contained a postscript directed at one of his assistant coaches. If Goodell had more, then you better believe, he would have included it in his overly-wrought statement.

While others in the media heap praise onto Goodell for sending a strong message against the (let’s face it) token incentivization that teammates provided one another for a devastating hit against their opponents (these guys are already payed $1,500 a play and would suffer exponentially larger fines than any bounty program could pay out if they knocked out an opponent illegally), I think it is critically important that we also question the validity of the evidence Goodell used to forever tarnish the reputation of Sean Payton and the integrity of an entire organization, particularly if it can be proven that the same conduct occurred in locker rooms all over the NFL. I may be biased, but to me, Goodell is merely attempting to make an example out of a small-market team before ever seriously investigating the actions of anyone else. To be sure, unlike others, I don’t believe this is because Goodell is conspiring to prevent the Saints from a Super Bowl appearance at the Super Dome; he will, after all, have to face the music himself when he doles out the Lombardi trophy in New Orleans next year. But it’s reckless, nonetheless.

Sean Payton may be a lying jerk. He may have partied too hard after the Saints won the Super Bowl in Miami. He may have implicitly allowed players to take prescription painkillers without the requisite prescription. And he may have known about what Greg Williams was up to, when Williams allowed players on the defense to pool together money for knocking out opponents. But there is no evidence that he cheated the game of football, unlike Bill Belichick, a coach who will likely be enshrined in Canton one day. Payton didn’t negligently kill someone else after driving drunk, like Donte Stallworth. He didn’t actively participate in murdering animals, like Michael Vick. Indeed, the only direct evidence of Payton’s crime: He received an e-mail that contained a postscript directed to the person who has admitted to orchestrating and organizing the entire program.

Some have suggested that Goodell took action against the Saints in order to send a message to those currently litigating against the NFL that the league takes player safety seriously. No they don’t.

Bill Dwyre of The LA Times, in an article criticizing Goodell’s decision and questioning whether Los Angeles should ever consent to joining a league headed up by Goodell, wrote, “The proof of that will be the years it will take, after Goodell’s sanctions, to get back to where they were. Those who doubt that, google the words ‘SMU’ and ‘Death Penalty.'” Amen, Mr. Dwyre. As a current SMU student whose sister, father, grandfather, and great-grandmother, among others, also attended SMU, your analogy is spot-on. SMU’s football program was eviscerated because it was the first NCAA team to be found breaking the rules that numerous other teams were also violating at the time. We are still recovering from the death penalty imposed in the 1980s, while major market, big school teams like USC have engaged in equally egregious conduct, only to be met with a slap on the wrist.

I, for one, hope that Coach Payton sues the pants off of Roger Goodell, an emperor who is already without clothes, and I hope the Mayor of New Orleans and the Governor of Louisiana realize that they’re not, in any way, obligated to kiss Mr. Goodell’s ring: His punitive and arbitrary actions come at the direct expense of the taxpayers of the Gret Stet of Louisiana. We don’t owe him anything. We should be suing him, individually, instead of cowering to him. Without question, Roger Goodell and the sycophants who support him are more concerned with “sending” a message than with the real effects of that message.

8 thoughts

  1. Amen, Lamar. Incentives are a natural part of any business, including the NFL. Players come into the league having been taught through such practices. Just check out the stickers on the helmets of Ohio State, Florida State, and others.

  2. Part of this is a little bit of payback for New Orleans and its fanbase telling the NFL to go fuck itself when they tried to trademark our Who Dat and shut down shop owners and t-shirt makers. Bounties have been a pervasive element of the game for decades. There’s more to this than just simple punishment.

  3. It appears that I am perhaps the only Saints fan in Louisiana that supports the sanctions. If Drew Bree had been hurt because of a bounty system of another team then I would be screaming for every player and coach involved to be banned for life from the NFL.

    It is a bit silly to suggest that Sean Payton had no knowledge whatsoever of the bounties. He turned a blind eye. Even if he truly did not know then he is nevertheless responsible for the actions of his underlings.

    I might be all for the bounty program IF the other team were given a warning and made aware of the Saints’ bounty deal. At least give the other team a heads-up so they can put their own bounty system in place to counter. The Saints would not want to lose Brees so a counter bounty might make the Saints (or any other team) think twice about going after the other Quarterback (or any other player) in this manner.

    Please, keep the hate mail to me to a minimum. Surely everyone agrees that at least something should have been done to put a stop to this practice.

    1. Without any doubt, the practice was widespread for decades. We now know that Green Bay, WAY back in the Brett Favre era, also employed a very similar program. The NFL investigated, and you know what Roger Goddell did then? Nothing. No fines. No suspensions. No loss of draft picks. Don’t get me wrong: The Packers are my second-favorite team in the NFL (not because of the tradition, but because the taxpayers of Green Bay are actual shareholders in their team, which is the best ownership model in all of professional sports). And I’ve always had mad respect for Brett Favre, except for that one little thing. (Yuck, yuck. Seriously, though, yuck).

      Point is: Roger Goddell can’t really prove his case against Sean Payton. He CAN prove his case against Greg Williams, no doubt, but the only thing he has on Payton is an e-mail that Payton received from someone else. I don’t buy the “he is nevertheless responsible for the actions of his underlings” argument, because if that is true, then Roger Goddell should hold himself accountable. He is the Commissioner of the NFL; he’s the ultimate boss, right? What would Payton’s lawyers discover if they were able to comb through Goddell’s e-mails? Seriously. I’d put down good money (not a bounty) that Roger Goddell has received stupid e-mails from stupid colleagues that could, under the same logic he is using against Payton, be used to implicate him.

      I am already sick and tired of the grandstanding. This was a widespread practice that infected almost every locker room in the NFL. Let’s all get real. Saints fans aren’t “whining;” at least most of us aren’t. We’re pointing out the obvious. Yes, it was a dumb program. But get real: Roger Goddell, in trying to make a point and “send a message,” is causing more harm than was ever inflicted by any bounty program. Look at the penalties. The Saints played just as fair as every other team.

      I really hope our elected leaders, who are responsible for incentivizing his league, realize that he is being capricious and arbitrary, that he is treating Louisiana as a disposable market, and that WE– the taxpayers of Louisiana– are being penalized before any investigation was ever commenced against the NFL’s precious major market franchises (with the exception of Green Bay, who, while not a major market, just got away with it entirely. I mean, after all, it’s the Lombardi trophy).

      One final thing: Drew Brees’s career was nearly ended when, as the quarterback for the Chargers, a Denver Broncos player tackled him after he was already down, tearing up his shoulder and causing a severe rotator cuff injury. Were the Broncos ever investigated for incentivizing their defense to knock out the opposing quarterback and nearly end his entire career? Of course not.

  4. Good points Lamar but you are kinda taking the “everyone does it so it is sorta ok” approach. Not a single Saints fan would be complaining if they got a slap of wrist. Saints fans feel it is going to hurt the team for years to come; well, it will. But what would have happened if one of those bounty hits ended the career of an opposing team’s Quarterback? Certainly that team would be reeling for years trying to replace a star player.

    I think you are trying to apply some sort of evidentiary standard to Sean Payton’s “conviction”. Goddell need only believe that Payton bears culpability and that’s the end of it. Due process is very limited in the NFL. While Goddell may have been harsh, he has likely ended the bounty system forever; which is a good thing.

    Geaux Saints! Katrina could not stop them and neither will Goddell

  5. I am disturbed by how many Saints fans seems to be ok with what was going on and justifying it. I also feel if it was an opponents that was their rival these same fans would want the harshest sentences. You all are flat out hypocrites. You go to church, say you believe in God then support the men responsible for putting out hits on players. This is why church attendance is down and more people see church goers as hypocrites. That is what all of you seem to be from all I know in this case.

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