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'Bountygate' needs to be put to bed

Pro Football Weekly
Publisher's Pen: In New Orleans, back where we belong

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Publisher's Pen: In New Orleans, back where we belong

I have a thought that’s dying to get out, but I have a feeling I might get burned on the timing, so let’s timestamp this one just to be safe. It’s around noon on Tuesday, and as of this moment, commissioner Roger Goodell still has not ruled on the appeals of the suspensions by Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove. I suspect the announcement will come down Tuesday, and I’m willing to bet it won’t be what I think it should be.

As for why we have had to wait this long, I suspect that’s just savvy P.R. by the commissioner. While most of us expected an announcement last week, with all the hoopla surrounding Drew Brees breaking Johnny Unitas’ record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass, and Goodell’s “kindness” in allowing Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt to be present, why ruin it with word that he’s nowhere near done punishing the Saints?

Assuming it’s announced by the time you read this, I’m guessing Goodell has upheld his original punishments and expects them to be served. Best case, maybe he took a game or perhaps two off the original suspensions for Vilma and Hargrove for behavior, good or bad, but to try and curry some public support.

The bottom line for me is, I believe the commissioner saddled a losing horse in this one from Day One. And in spite of all the chances he has had to abandon the race, he hasn’t found the good sense to swallow a little pride and move on. While what the Saints did was wrong, it wasn’t that unique or unusual in the world of professional football, and a serious slap on the wrist and feigning of mock outrage would have sufficed.

I understand the reasons Gregg Williams, Payton, Loomis and Vitt got slapped so much harder than most of the players. They were given fair warning to cease and desist before any punishment was forthcoming and they lied to Goodell’s office, reported they understood and would stop the practice of offering and rewarding bounties. Then, they ignored the warning and continued as if nothing had happened. Lying to the commissioner is a bad idea — actually lying to anyone, anytime is a bad idea — but doing so to Goodell, fresh off his crushing of the players’ union the summer before and seemingly fitting himself with the cape of all seeing, all powerful, invincible Grand Poobah of the world of pro football and all that its shadow is cast upon was particularly dumb.

However, when it comes to Vilma, Smith, Fujita and Hargrove, here’s the part I’ve never understood: Were they the only four players to participate in Williams’ “play tough for pay” scheme? That doesn’t seem possible, does it? In fact, we know that’s not true. So, if the bounty plan was so horrible, so distasteful and such a threat to the integrity of the game, why are only four of the 15-to-25 players involved being punished?

The fact is, Goodell is not completely wrong. While reality is that every defensive player in the league lines up for every play of every game with the goal of knocking out, as in OUT, the player across from him, offering players extra incentive to injure one of their peers is simply wrong. But couldn’t Goodell have made that point without making the ridiculously foul mess “Bountygate” has become?

Here is what Goodell should do. He should step to a microphone Tuesday and reinforce his disgust with what the Saints and the great majority of their players did, and what other teams and players around the league have done for years, and state as emphatically as he can it must never happen again. Next, he should say that, nonetheless, as an extremely intelligent adult, he has come to realize that continuing to pursue these punishments at this point is unlikely to create any greater odds that it will or won’t happen again, and it’s time to move on. After all, didn’t he and the league’s 32 owners just put their players at much greater risk of injury with the replacement officials fiasco than “Bountygate” ever did? I guess nobody’s perfect, eh?

C’mon, Rog, do the right thing and free the fellas and let’s move on. Wouldn’t it be nice to finally move past the stench that’s been laid on our game in recent months from both sides of the line in the sand?

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