It's certainly understandable that New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees would be upset, and publicly so, about the NFL disciplinary process that will cost him his head coach, interim head coach, general manager, and two defensive teammates through all or part of the 2012 season. Brees has long been an advocate of fairness and transparency in the dialogue between the owners and players -- he was specifically out front during the 2011 lockout -- and the fact that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has still presented to specific evidence that ties any of four current and former suspended Saints players has Brees on edge.
Before and after he signed his recent five-year, $100 million contract extension, Brees has been open and honest about his problems with the process by which the league laid down discipline in the wake of the bounty scandal. And when SI.com's Peter King made it down to Saints training camp last week, Brees really let it fly. King asked him what players thought of Goodell in general as the ultimate ambassador of the sport, and Brees started off by expressing dismay at the way head coach Sean Payton's season-long suspension was handled.
"I was utterly shocked. Shocked. And the way the suspension works -- it's like, You're cut off right now. We [the NFL] are going to tell you who you can and cannot talk to over the next year. That is completely ridiculous."
Brees then went on to say what he had heard from multiple NFL players regarding their feelings for the Commish, expressing a divide between talent and administration that is not good for any organization, no matter what the profession may be.
"Nobody trusts him. Nobody trusts him. 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, and the interview is just a façade. I think now if a guy has to come in to talk to Roger, he'll be very hesitant because he'll think the conclusion has already been reached."
With a few days to let that bomb marinate in the minds of the football-loving public, Brees had time to cool off on his own. Maybe it was that he was finally throwing passes for real in a training camp situation, but when he spoke to SIRIUS NFL Radio on Wednesday, Brees tried to strike a more conciliatory tone.
"Just to clarify, I know that the headline statement was 'Brees Bashes Goodell,' but that's not the case. I was asked the question, how do players -- consensus -- feel about Roger Goodell? I Paused, and I thought about it, and from my conversations with a lot of players -- not just my locker room -- have been, it's that players don't trust Roger Goodell. Now, that was not disrespectful. I was asked a direct question, and I gave a very honest and direct answer. I have been asked this question to clarify a lot lately. The fact of the matter is, I have a lot of respect for Roger Goodell. I've had a lot of positive dealings with him over the last few years. I think Roger Goodell has done a lot of great things as Commissioner.
"I just feel that in regard to this process, and this investigation, I don't feel that it was done fairly. And I feel that they got this one wrong. I have no problem saying that. I would also say that we're in a position where we can still make this right. I believe whole-heartedly that [between] the league, and Commissioner Goodell, and our team, and the union, we can all come together and re-evaluate, if you want to call it that. We can do this together, and we can make this right.
"In the end, all any of us want is just the truth, based on the facts and based upon the evidence. But let's make it a fair and transparent process. I just know that right now, we have the opportunity to make it right. I have confidence in everyone, including Commissioner Goodell, that it can be done."
The turnabout is intelligent in that Brees' voice is no longer angry and unreasonable. By throwing the burden of reason back on Goodell and the league, he has challenged Goodell to stop with the backroom politics and implied violations against league policy, and turn things around. Just as Goodell has an obligation to maintain order for the good of the league, he also has a responsibility to do so in ways that don't bring the integrity of his processes into question.
In effect, Drew Brees has given Roger Goodell an opening he hasn't had before. We'll just see what Goodell does with it.