**Editor’s note: I like the Saints about as much as anyone likes any sports team. I’ll try to hide it behind a thin veil of pseudo-journalistic objectivity, but it isn’t going to work.
***Editor’s note remix: No situation that involves uncovering details of a scandal should ever be referred to as AnythingGate, please respect that in the comments.
Yesterday Roger Goodell sent a message to everyone who will ever play football ever again. What it sounded like in his mind was, “No one will try to hurt anyone during a football game after today,” but by the time it came out it turned into, “Look how much power I have, I can say ANYTHING and you HAVE to do it.”
He was right to penalize Sean Payton, Gregg Williams and the rest of the Saints organization involved in the pay-for-injurious-hits system that has been around for the last three years in New Orleans. While the Saints are probably one of 32 teams in the NFL that reward defensive players for hitting offensive players hard, everyone doing it shouldn’t make it acceptable. And those other teams didn’t lie about it. The Saints did something punishable. But this particular punishment is grossly severe.
That’s because the punishment isn’t intended to promote healthy tackling. It’s not intended to scare teams away from borderline illegal hits. The egregious scope of Roger Goodell’s penalties against the Saints are meant to make it excessively clear to the rest of the league that Goodell has the biggest d*** in the neighborhood and no matter how important you are, if you’re not Goodell, you’re his b****.
Suspending Sean Payton for 6 or 8 games would have shown the rest of the coaches that they shouldn’t promote illegal hits. Actually, 100% of them already know that without anyone getting sidelined. Suspending Payton 6-8 games would have shown them that violating that particular rule will cost them more games than the roughhousing is worth. Half a season would have proven a point. A whole season proves the point and then does a victory lap.
Same with Mickey Loomis. Other GMs already know that they need to be on top of their coaching staffs to make sure they’re protecting the athletes. They should be afraid of the penalty for not doing so, but 4 games would scare me.
In a move once thought to be specific to the NCAA, the NFL punished way outside of the circle of involved individuals. Two second-round draft picks forfeited by team? Who is that supposed to punish? That hurts the whole franchise. Sure, the whole franchise was guilty of something, but taking away chances to let the team improve in the draft isn’t the right way to deal with that, Goodell is just hurting innocent parties associated with the guilty individuals.
Here’s another example of an unnecessary victim: The St. Louis Rams. The Rams didn’t do anything wrong. They hired Gregg Williams to be their defensive coordinator, but that has nothing to do with player safety, which is the heart of this issue, right? After Williams indefinite suspension from the league, the Rams are left DC-less for a period of time that isn’t yet determined. They could always go after another coordinator, but Williams might be re-instated later and maybe they still want him. There’s no way to punish Gregg Williams without punishing the Rams, and Gregg Williams needs to be punished. That’s the unfortunate reality for St Louis. But even prisoners get definite sentences. An indefinite suspension doesn’t allow the Rams to plan on moving to fill that DC position with any sort of certainty.
Goodell will say that at the heart of this issue are the players. But he’s lying. At the heart of this issue is a commissioner who isn’t sure he’s being taken seriously and needs to remind himself that he’s powerful. Here’s the thing about football: on every play, at least 50% of the players are going to get hit. They wear pads, they obey the rules, and they’ll still get hit on most plays. That’s just the way football works. There are rules inside the game to reduce the contact that is most likely to cause injuries, but the Saints followed those rules to the same extent that other teams did. If Goodell doesn’t want the players to take contact, he should commission a fantasy football league.
Hits are part of the game. In fact, TV coverage of the sport makes money by compiling big hits into sponsored segments like “Jack’d up” that promote the dangerous contact. Now those same stations are taking those same highlights and playing them in slow motion with sad faces while pointing out how these tackles are bad for the league. The NFL, like all pro sports, is in place to entertain. The violence is a part of why people watch football. If the players wanted a job that ensures their safety, they could take a 98% pay cut and get one.
I understand sending a message. But there’s a big gap between a punishment that sends a message and a punishment that goes too far, and this decision by Goodell is pretty far toward the latter.