SBD/March 22, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Goodell Sends Clear Message With Bountygate Punishments For Saints, Payton, Loomis

Goodell's actions have received mostly approval from various corners of industry
The NFL yesterday "slammed the Saints with penalties" for a bounty program the team ran from '09-11 that "paid bonuses for hits that knocked opponents out for all or part of a game," according to Michael DeMocker of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that Saints head coach Sean Payton has been "suspended for a full season without pay, beginning April 1, and general manager Mickey Loomis faces an 8-game suspension" when the '12 season begins. In addition, assistant head coach Joe Vitt "was suspended for 6 games without pay." Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the Rams, "faces what Goodell labeled an 'indefinite suspension,' but it will last at least one full year because the commissioner said he will not review Williams' case until after the 2012 season." The Saints also were stripped of "second round draft picks this year and next, which means New Orleans will not have a selection in the 2012 draft until the third round." Goodell also fined the organization $500,000 (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 3/22). Also as part of his ruling, Goodell "ordered owners for all 32 teams to meet with their head coaches and send a letter to the league office certifying that no similar bounty programs exist in their organizations" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/22).

RATIONALE: Goodell sat down with ESPN’s Adam Schefter for a taped interview that aired on ESPN’s “SportsCenter” yesterday afternoon and said, “It's clear that the violation we have here is a very important rule. Anything that puts at-risk the health and safety of our players, that's a very important policy and rue and we're going to uphold that. Second of all, it went for three on for three years with denials from club officials and we pursued it aggressively.” Goodell said “I hold head coaches accountable” and Payton “denying its existence to league investigators, to his own ownership, I think that that’s a significant problem.” Goodell said of the investigation, “There's a tremendous amount of information corroborated by several different sources that's very clear that this was happening on a regular basis, it was clearly out of control, that they identified specific players and targeted them for injury. That's simply unacceptable in the NFL. ...There will be no non-contract bonus payments permitted in the NFL, and we will rigorously make sure that that's enforced” ("SportsCenter", ESPN, 3/21).

PROTECT THIS HOUSE
: In N.Y., Judy Battista in a front-page piece notes the NFL's decision was a "powerful rebuke to one of the game's most successful teams." For a league "facing dozens of lawsuits related to the damage caused by concussions, the penalty reflected, at minimum, a recognition that it had to take a strong public stand against a part of football culture seen as a threat to player safety." The Saints' penalties also seemed "designed to get the attention of every team in the league in much the same way the suspensions of the star players Paul Hornung and Alex Karras in the 1960s for gambling sent a message about the league’s lack of tolerance for that activity" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Michael Silver wrote Goodell left "no doubt that he is the league’s most potent powerbroker, that he’s not going away anytime soon and that anyone who crosses him must do so at his own peril." But the commissioner "didn’t merely flex to his de facto bosses." He also "took a machete to the Nixonesque culture that permeates America’s most popular sports league" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21). In Boston, Bob Ryan writes the Saints are "now experiencing the wrath of a commissioner who feels he must make it perfectly clear that, however inherently violent the sport he governs is, the public must not be allowed to think that the enterprise is, well, completely barbaric." Ryan: "Don’t mess with Roger Goodell. Ever. He is a mother eagle protecting the image of his NFL nest" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22). ESPN’s Bill Polian said, “To reach this kind of very severe sentence indicates that there’s evidence there that [Goodell] feels very strongly about.” Polian: “This is a very, very courageous decision by the commissioner. This is a hard decision to make” ("SportsCenter", ESPN, 3/21).

PRAISE FOR GOODELL
: USA TODAY's Joe Saraceno in a front-page piece notes Goodell's "stern edict was greeted with approval in many quarters as a way of corralling unnecessary violence" (USA TODAY, 3/22). Steelers President Art Rooney II said yesterday, "I think the commissioner is sending a very loud and clear message here. Hopefully, the effect is going to be that we will get these kinds of things out of the game. We don't need this in our game" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 3/22). NBC’s Bob Costas: “I want to stand up and cheer for Roger Goodell. … He has made an important statement today.” Costas added, “Roger Goodell is sending a message about the culture of the game, about the celebration of a kind of violence and brutality that goes above and beyond anything that reasonable people should accept” (“NBC Sports Talk,” NBC Sports Network, 3/21). USA TODAY's Christine Brennan writes Goodell "gave our increasingly permissive, slap-on-the-wrist society a wonderful gift" yesterday, and he "showed us what real punishment looks like." Brennan: "No one could have been more consistent and steadfast than Goodell has been on this issue." Brennan writes, "Our senses have been so dulled by unpunished misbehavior over the years, in all levels of sports, that we're surprised when a big-league commissioner actually does the right thing" (USATODAY.com, 3/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Chris Chase wrote Goodell was "right to hand down the Draconian punishment." The NFL "can't afford to be hypocritical at such a pivotal time in the move to make the game safer for players" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21). In Ft. Worth, Clarence Hill Jr. writes, "And to think some of us thought Goodell was too harsh in the salary cap penalties he handed down" against the Cowboys and Redskins last week. Any anger and "bitterness toward Goodell and his supposed abuse of power are misplaced" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/22).

HE HAD TO DO IT
: YAHOO SPORTS' Doug Farrar wrote Goodell was able to "exact the most severe punishment possible because he had three things in his favor: a desperate need to end something rotten in his sport, a mandate for change, and an easy target on which to drop that bomb." There are moral and ethical "tripwires in what the Saints did, and that is at the very heart of what Goodell is trying to destroy by any means necessary" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/21). In DC, Dan Daly writes Goodell "keeps on trying to remind everybody" that there "really are limits, that you really can go too far." It is "almost inconceivable that an NFL franchise could be this clueless." The idea that this is "just a grandstand play by Goodell, a disproportionate response to an age-old (though hush-hush) pro football custom, is simply misguided." If the commissioner "didn’t throw a few thunderbolts, didn’t show zero tolerance for such recklessness, the league’s credibility would have suffered" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 3/22). In Baltimore, Kevin Cowherd writes there is "no way Goodell could just slap the Saints on the wrist for a team-wide conspiracy." The commissioner "didn't try to slick-talk this one, didn't try to minimize the severity of what the Saints were up to." His punishment "was fair," and he "did what he had to do for the integrity of the game" (Baltimore SUN, 3/22). ESPN”s Chris Mortensen said the penalties are “truly unprecedented and if they were meant to send a statement of deterrence to the rest of the league than I think Roger Goodell, who’s been often described as having a heavy hand, just delivered not a hammer, but a sledgehammer” ("SportsCenter", ESPN, 3/21).

SHOULD HE HAVE DONE MORE? In DC, Mike Wise writes under the header, "New Orleans Saints Deserved Punishment For Bounty System, But Roger Goodell And NFL Haven't Gone Far Enough." For all of the "grandstanding about safety-first and protecting the players, Goodell knows more than anyone: If fewer players go down, the more an 18-game season is possible." The profit windfall "grows, the lawsuits stop and everybody is happy." If Goodell can "walk that fine line between celebrating the hard-hitters and condemning the headhunters, he can make more money for his owners behind the cloak of caring deeply for his players" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22). In Charlotte, Scott Fowler wrote, "I'm glad the NFL has taken such a hard line on bounties. ... I wish the league had also taken away the Saints' No. 1 draft pick in 2013. Otherwise, suspending Payton for a year seems about right, and I would imagine Williams will never work in the league again" (CHARLOTTEOBSERVER.com, 3/21). In L.A., Bill Dwyre writes, "Let's take a deep breath and hold off on the canonization of Roger Goodell." The commissioner "didn't have a difficult decision." One of his teams "got caught doing something really stupid and Neanderthal and then lied about it." Goodell gets "paid seven figures." He is "supposed to do this" (L.A. TIMES, 3/22). Goodell said in response to those who say the punishments are too severe, “It's a very, very significant violation of our policies. … You have to be accountable and responsible in the NFL and that's part of what you're going to be held to. The simple message here is people are going to be held accountable.” Goodell added, “Our punishment is designed to make sure people know that we're going to hold them accountable and responsible for what goes on in their organization. I certainly hope it won't happen again. That happens not only on the team level, but also with the players” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 3/21).

SAFETY FIRST
: ESPN.com's Ashley Fox wrote if there was "ever any doubt about Goodell's sincerity in promoting player safety, it was erased for good" yesterday. It took "courage and major intestinal fortitude for Goodell to paralyze the Saints like he did." Fox: "You don't lie to Goodell. Not anymore" (ESPN.com, 3/21). FOXSPORTS.com's Greg Couch writes the NFL "stands for more than current pro football players." This is an era when "boys -- and their parents -- are dreaming about football stardom, learning their culture from what they do at the top level." Couch: "Too bad it had to become a PR problem before someone would act on it" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/22). ESPN.com's John Clayton wrote because colleges and high schools "look to the NFL for leadership, cleaning up such a horrible problem will help the sport at those levels as well" (ESPN.com, 3/21). In Dallas, Rick Gosselin wrote, "I knew Goodell would come down hard on the Saints because everything the league has done rule-wise in the last five years has been aimed at player safety." Bounties "flaunt all those measures." Every team in the NFL "now knows if it intends to pay bounties, it's going to cost the head coach a year without pay" (DALLASNEWS.com, 3/21).

SPYGATE COMPARISONS
: The BOSTON GLOBE's Ryan writes the Saints penalties are "interesting in light of the fact that when he sanctioned the Patriots for Spygate, Goodell had a different view of what constituted proper punishment." Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was "personally fined $500,000 and the Patriots were fined $250,000" for their roles in Spygate. In addition, the team "was stripped of a first-round pick." But there "were no suspensions." With the Saints' penalties, Goodell is "telling us that a year’s suspension is far more significant, and therefore more effective, than a personal fine and forfeiture of a draft pick or two." Spygate was "bad because it violated the spirit of fair play." But Bountygate, in theory, is "exponentially worse, because if successfully executed, it could affect someone's livelihood in a very direct way." Ryan: "What we have learned from both incidents is that image and obedience are what matter most to Roger Goodell" (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/22). In Ft. Worth, Clarence Hill Jr. writes for those "trying to compare it to the punishments levied against the New England Patriots for Spygate, you clearly don't get it." Goodell's primary job is to "be the caretaker of the NFL shield and in that respect he had no choice but to come down hard on Payton and the Saints"  (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 3/22).
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