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 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.