I suppose that the Roger Goodell critics will complain that he was trying to send a message with his harsh penalties that came down today in the wake of the Saints bounty scandal.
But what a message to send.
You can bury your head in the sand all you want and claim that bounties like the Saints were using “goes on everywhere”. And maybe you’re right. But the fact is that we have admitted occurrences of coaches and players collecting and doling out money for “knockout” and “cart-off” hits in NFL games. We know that football is a violent sport. And you have to play right on the edge of sanity to excel at the highest level.
But it is, after all, a game. And it is, after all, a business. And we’re told by most that it’s a fraternity of men who played the game. And if that’s the case, which I believe it is, Goodell had no choice but to act swiftly and strongly.
To be fair, nobody expected him to act THIS quickly and THIS severely. I figured that the Saints would lose a pick or two and Sean Payton might miss a game or two. But for Payton to lose an entire season is amazing. And the more I think about – justified.
Goodell’s greatest concern as commissioner is player safety. He knows that he has the best league in America. And he knows that the only thing that would knock football from its perch would be for top players to get injured and have their careers shortened. America loves football. But America wouldn’t love football if Tom Brady and Matthew Stafford missed a whole season the same way that Peyton Manning did. So Goodell has to strike a balance between the violent game that we all love, and the dangerous game that causes players to lose years off their lives.
This was just a step in the process.
Perhaps this penalty will be appealed. Perhaps it will be trimmed down. That’s not the point. The point is that football to cause injury will not be tolerated anymore. Goodell has made the clear already with suspensions and fines that he gave out to players like James Harrison of the Steelers and Ndamukong Suh of the Lions. But he made it crystal clear today. The Saints case is going to be like one of those landmark Supreme Court cases that get cited when new law is passed or overturned. When a player, coach or executive gets a suspension for a similar infraction – all they’ll have to do is refer back to the Payton case to find out just how severe their penalty will be.
And Goodell isn’t done either. He still has to deal with the players. And if Payton gets a year, shouldn’t someone like Jonathan Vilma get more? How can the players association plead for safety and argue for fewer practices and games…and at the same time conspire to injure their fellow union-members? It’s unconscionable.
Again, you can disagree with Goodell all you want. But you can’t disagree with this point – Goodell is trying to make his game better. Bud Selig could make his game better by adopting instant replay. He won’t. David Stern made an embarrassment of his game by voiding the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers. And Gary Bettman refuses to embrace the traditions of hockey while continuing to try to force-feed it to markets that just don’t want it. (Hmmm. Take the Thrashers OUT of Atlanta and put them in Winnipeg? What a concept!)
Today is a strange day in NFL history because it is so unexpected. But it’s a great day as well. A commissioner acted in the best interests of his sport, and he made it better. Every other commish should be taking notes.