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SBD/December 12, 2012/Leagues and Governing BodiesPrint All
Former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue made a “drastic change in the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal Tuesday as the NFL announced all suspensions and penalties” for the players allegedly involved in the team’s bounty scandal -- LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Will Smith, LB Scott Fujita and DL Anthony Hargrove -- have “been vacated,” according to a front-page piece by Larry Holder of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Tagliabue chose “not to uphold any of the punishments” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell re-issued “several months ago after the first penalties were also vacated.” Tagliabue painted the Saints' organization “as the most to blame for the bounty program rather than the players.” The NFL was "staunch" in promoting Tagliabue's decision. The league said Tagliabue's decision, which “affirms factual findings of Commissioner Goodell, concludes Hargrove, Smith, Vilma 'engaged in conduct detrimental.'" Tagliabue also said there is "more than enough evidence to support Commissioner Goodell's findings that Mr. Vilma offered such a bounty (on Brett Favre)." Tulane Sports Law Program Dir Gabe Feldman said the decision is "creative in that it's essentially a complete victory for the players, and yet it allows the league to save face” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/12). In N.Y., Judy Battista writes Tagliabue’s decision “made clear that he thought Goodell overreached when disciplining the players” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/12). The AP’s Jim Litke writes under the header, “Tagliabue Shows Goodell How It’s Done.” Tagliabue's reasoning was “torturous, but the result was fair.” He decided Vilma, Smith and Hargrove “had suffered enough,” and he “cleared Scott Fujita, who'd maintained his innocence all along.” Litke: “Just as important, Tagliabue affirmed current Commissioner Roger Goodell's findings of fact in the case.” Tagliabue knew his successor “didn't need any more challenges to his reputation or authority at the moment” (AP, 12/12).
SIMILAR TO A SETTLEMENT: NFL Network’s Albert Breer said the “best way to look at this is as a settlement.” Tagliabue’s background is as a lawyer, so he is "trying to get both sides to walk away and end this entire case.” Breer said for the NFL, the ruling “validates their process and it proves in fact that they were correct in a lot of the things they claimed against the four players” (“NFL Total Access,” NFL Network, 12/11). In New Orleans, Jeff Duncan writes Tagliabue “leaned heavily on common sense, which has been in woefully short supply by both sides from the outset.” Duncan: “He's essentially saying to Goodell, the damage is done, your point's been made, bounties have effectively been eliminated forever, now let's end this mess before the Super Bowl kicks off in February.” Goodell either “needed to punish everyone involved or no one.” Duncan: “You can't pick and choose when meting out such severe penalties. In this instance, Tagliabue chose the latter” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/12). SPORTS ON EARTH’s Mike Tanier wrote this was the “first time that common sense has reared its head in the Saints bounty scandal since we first heard that Williams liked to give violently-specific speeches” (SPORTSONEARTH.com, 12/11). In New Orleans, Mike Triplett writes Tagliabue “got almost everything right Tuesday.” He handled the bounty case “with the kind of common sense, reasonable judgment and shrewd desire to wrap everything up in a nice, neat bow that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell never came close to approaching.” In the “Commissioner Bowl, Goodell was routed by the old boss” (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 12/12).YAHOO SPORTS’ Jason Cole noted some people will look at the decision as “clever lawyering on Tagliabue's part, a way for him to get rid of the player penalties while keeping Goodell on firm legal ground as he faces a defamation lawsuit from Vilma.” But if you “look deeper into this, Tagliabue basically blamed everybody.” At a time when both the league and the players “had a great chance to repudiate the game's dirty side, they wasted an opportunity” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 12/11).
BACK TO COURT? USA TODAY’s Mike Garafolo notes Vilma now “has the ammo and the willingness to move forward in his defamation lawsuit” against Goodell. Vilma’s attorney Peter Ginsberg yesterday said he and his client were “definitely going full force ... a hundred percent.” Ginsberg added that Vilma “would not withdraw the motions to depose Goodell and gather information the league compiled on discovery because, while Tagliabue vacated Vilma’s suspension, he affirmed that the information Goodell collected on the bounty situation was accurate” (USA TODAY, 12/12). CBSSPORTS.com’s Jason La Canfora noted Tagliabue “may have bolstered the case for additional litigation in this case.” Sources indicated that Fujita and Hargrove “could end up pursuing lawsuits similar" to Vilma's case (CBSSPORTS.com, 12/11). FOXSPORTS.com’s Jen Floyd Engel writes Tagliabue’s ruling was not "a rebuke" of Goodell, but he instead "saved" the commissioner. Engel: “He saved The League, protected The Shield ... by insulating the league from a Jonathan Vilma defamation lawsuit.” NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy yesterday tweeted, “Tagliabue says he wanted to resolve matter completely so NFL and NFLPA can move on to address player safety issues.” Engel: “Translation: The NFL is about to be hip-to-waders deep in lawsuits about concussions and the overall safety of the game to be fighting a couple of players -- in court, with the power of discovery -- on whether they intentionally hurt a couple of other players” (FOXSPORTS.com 12/12).
TIME TO MOVE ON: ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said, "I think Tagliabue sat in a room and he said, ‘You know what, I can't defend the ‘shield’ this way. This is no good. We have killed the Saints already. This has dragged on forever. I want out of this. I want this to end and let's move on because it's killing us’” (“PTI,” ESPN, 12/11). ESPN's Jackie MacMullan said, "This Bountygate is a problem that the NFL wants to go away and as a former commissioner, Paul Tagliabue totally gets that" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/11). SI.com’s Peter King wrote on “first read, it's a smart decision designed to make this case go away after the eight-month-long black eye it gave the league” (SI.com, 12/11). The Chicago Tribune’s Fred Mitchell said Tagliabue’s ruling was a “very nice attorney’s move as far as making both sides feel okay about what happened.” The Chicago Tribune’s Brad Biggs said, “You just hope that sooner rather than later this whole thing will be behind the league” (“Chicago Tribune Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 12/11).
KNOCK TO GOODELL'S REPUTATION: ESPN's Dan Le Batard said Tagliabue's decision is an "embarrassment for Roger Goodell, and this is the first dent in his omnipotence that we’ve ever seen” (“Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable,” ESPN2, 12/11). In Tampa, Gary Shelton writes Goodell "looks much less powerful today than he did yesterday" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 12/12). ESPN L.A.'s J.A. Adande said, "You wonder what authority Goodell is going to have in the future and if other players are going to feel empowered to challenge Goodell?" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 12/11). SI.com’s Michael Rosenberg wrote Goodell “lost” yesterday. He can “claim he was right about the Saints, and right about their bounty program,” But Goodell was “wrong in a much bigger and more important way,” as he was “wrong in how he pursued the case” (SI.com, 12/11). ESPN’s Jalen Rose said the ruling is a “huge loss for the commissioner. ‘Open mouth, insert foot’ is the best way I could put it. He got this one all the way wrong” (“Numbers Never Lie,” ESPN2, 12/11). ESPN's John Clayton said, “The players were the big victors and the commissioner and the National Football League the losers in this case” ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 12/11).
GOING TOO FAR WITH HIS POWER: In N.Y., Mark Cannizzaro writes the ruling “surely was not a win for Goodell, whose reputation as a tough-guy disciplinarian took a major hit.” Goodell has been “widely criticized by players for the way he acts as judge-and-jury in these matters, and this ruling shows that he reacted too swiftly and strongly with his suspensions” (N.Y. POST, 12/12). SPORTING NEWS’ David Steele wrote, “Tagliabue made it plain about his former protégé: You went too far. You overstepped your bounds. You abused your power. You are guilty of first-degree arrogance and gross pomposity” (SPORTINGNEWS.com, 12/11). PRO FOOTBALL TALK’s Mike Florio noted “portions of the text crafted carefully by Tagliabue suggest a passive-aggressive effort to send an unmistakable message” to Goodell. Tagliabue is telling Goodell “he shouldn’t have tried to defuse a time bomb with a hammer” (PROFOOTBALLTALK.com, 12/11). N.Y. Daily News’ John Harper said Goodell “comes off looking like this guy who is a control freak who wants to be in charge without regard for due process” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 12/11).
ALL'S NOT LOST: ESPN's Andrew Brandt said the decision was "damning," but added Goodell’s “'conduct detrimental’ powers are not lessened” because of Tagliabue's ruling ("Outside The Lines," ESPN, 12/11). In L.A., Sam Farmer writes Goodell “had his hand slapped in a public way, but little more,” as he “probably knew what the outcome would be” (L.A. TIMES, 12/12).
NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith this morning said he was “satisfied in the ruling” former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue handed down yesterday that overturned the suspensions and fines for the four players implicated in the alleged Saints bounty program. Appearing on "CBS This Morning," Smith said, "I'm disappointed in the National Football League, and certainly disappointed in the way in which they conducted an investigation, because I now know having read and seen all of the testimony that there was certainly no evidence that the bounties existed.” Smith said as a former prosecutor, “I understand how to do investigations and the investigation that the league did was sloppy. The investigation that they did was more outcome-focused than, frankly, process-focused.” CBS' Norah O’Donnell asked whether the ruling serves to “undermine" NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s authority. Smith said, "At times when you make a wrong decision, perhaps your authority should be undermined.” CBS' Charlie Rose then asked, “Are you saying in your judgment there was no bounty at all on the part of the New Orleans Saints?” Smith: “Having seen nearly 50,000 pages of evidence and nearly 20-hours of testimony, I know that there was no bounty put on players by Saints players.” Smith added Goodell and the league should "say they're sorry, because they've maligned the character of good players." Smith: "If they certainly believe that they are right, the one thing that Roger Goodell could do is simply release the transcripts and we will all know the truth.” Tagliabue in his decision upheld the suspensions and fines for several coaches and front-office execs. Smith said the difference in their situation and the players' situation is that the players "have a union." Smith: "At a time when unions are under attack, this is what unions do. We fight and we believe that if there are times when our players are wrongly treated, we will fight for their fairness.”
ANOTHER LAWSUIT COMING: Smith also said the NFLPA today is going to file a lawsuit against the NFL and some teams because those teams "are making our players sign waivers of liability before they get medical treatment and before they get some shots." He said, "I believe that a medical professional making a player sign a waiver before you provide that player with medical treatment is not only something that is wrong ethically, but at a time when the league professes to care about player health and safety, do you think that's consistent with player health and safety?” (“CBS This Morning,” CBS, 12/12). The union later put out a statement that it had filed a grievance under the NFL’s CBA process, and had done so yesterday (Daniel Kaplan, SportsBusiness Journal).
Yesterday marked the 20th anniversary of the NHL hiring Gary Bettman as commissioner, and the Vancouver PROVINCE's Tony Gallagher writes under the header, "It's Been 20 Years Of Bettman: As Far As The Owners Are Concerned, He's Done A Pretty Good Job." Because Bettman has "functioned as a representative of the owners, you could argue he's done a very nice job, particularly with respect to the increase in value of the various franchises over the length of his reign." Bettman has been "responsible for the expansion of the league by six teams, which means there are that many more hockey-related jobs ... and throughout that expansion he's kept the number of playoff teams the same, against temptation to do otherwise." There is "no question Bettman brought a certain professionalism to the position." Much of the increase in revenues during Bettman's tenure -- from C$400M "at the time he took over" to C$3.3B prior to the current lockout -- "has come from inflation and the Canadian dollar." In some ways "you could call him a socialist commissioner with most everything done to punish success and reward failure." But "to be sure Bettman's legacy will be very much more kindly reviewed whenever he does step away if this present squabble ends soon" (Vancouver PROVINCE, 12/12).
BY THE NUMBERS: In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes since Bettman's first full season as commissioner in '93-94, 2,224 regular-season NHL "games have been canceled" because of three separate lockouts. That comes to 9.7% of games scheduled from October '93 through January 1, 2013. No other "major league has a similar rate of cancellation over the same period." Innovative Sports & Entertainment Advisor and BOD member Bob Gutkowski: "To lose almost 10 percent of your games to lockouts, that’s a chilling number" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/12).
REPORT CARD: In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason notes Bettman "didn’t take his post until Feb. 1, 1993, but he was hired as commissioner after a meeting Dec. 11, 1992." His anniversary is "hardly grounds for mass celebration," but his tenure "in totality should not be pushed through a shredder, either, as many would believe." Overall, the league is "stronger, and players are making exponentially more money than they did when he arrived" (BUFFALO NEWS, 12/12). The GLOBE & MAIL's Bruce Dowbiggin writes of Bettman, "The current CBA disaster will no doubt be carved on his tombstone." The "problem for Bettman is that his major accomplishments have been obscured from the average fan. Going into the lockout we gave him a C+. We'll wait till this lockout ends to give a final grade. But it's not likely to improve" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/12).
Interim IndyCar CEO Jeff Belskus has “made a positive impact within the series in just a matter of weeks,” according to Marshall Pruett of SPEEDTV.com. The longtime Hulman & Co. exec has been “tasked with leading the IndyCar Series after Randy Bernard’s dismissal, and until recently, was expected to hold onto the IndyCar CEO role.” But Belskus now “heads into the upcoming 2013 season with plenty of work to do and an undetermined amount of time to make progress.” Below are excerpts froma Q&A with Belskus.
Q: If there was one takeaway message from the recent IndyCar CEO change, it’s that the concerns of the car owners need to be the concerns of the person in charge of IndyCar. The actionable concerns. How can this be addressed going forward?
Belskus: They are an important stakeholder for us and we have many important stakeholders; the tracks are important, the sponsors are important, our fans are important, but the team owners certainly are up there. I hear them. And I know they've got a dilemma and I know they need help and we’re committed to doing what we can to help them. So what I really think the problem is, is that we need a better way to interact with them, a better process to interact with them. It doesn't exist within the sport today in a more organized forum, if you will, so we’re going to work here with coming up with good ideas with them in terms of how we interact on an ongoing basis so that they know that they're being heard and that we're responding hopefully as well.
Q: What can be done to increase the annual operating budget for IndyCar -- the funds to run and staff the series and, specifically, market and promote itself?
Belskus: We want to be strategic about our expenditures and I do think we’ve seen value in adding to our promotional budget. And, again, we want to be strategic and smart about how we spend those dollars.
Q: What’s the biggest area of improvement with IndyCar you’ve targeted to attack while you’re in charge of the series?
Belskus: We are in the process of developing a strategic vision, the strategic plan. I think it's premature, I think that's really the top priority is get a good long-term plan in place here. I think from that we’ll flow a lot of, we’ll make a lot of decisions based on how that plan comes together and what that plan ends up looking like.
Q: Sanction fees have been a good tool to improve IndyCar’s bottom line, but it has also kept the series away from certain venues based solely on what promoters are willing to pay. Do you foresee any changes to this policy?
Belskus: Our schedule is critically important. And we know we have fans in markets that aren’t served today with IndyCar racing and we very much want to find opportunities to have a presence in those markets (SPEEDTV.com, 12/10).
DOUBLE DUTY: ESPN.com's John Oreovicz reported NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski said that he "would be interested" in running the Indianapolis 500 in the future. Keselowski, who won the '12 Sprint Cup title driving for team owner Roger Penske, said, "Ford doesn't have a presence in Indy car racing, but if they did, I'd be knocking on Roger's door and he'd be knocking on mine. How could it not appeal to you? It would be the pinnacle achievement in motorsport of all time. If you could go out and win one of those races, let alone two, you'd be a legend." IndyCar champion Ryan Hunter-Reay said that he was "disappointed" NASCAR driver Tony Stewart did not accept Penske's offer to drive in the Indy 500. Hunter-Reay said, "I was hoping to see it happen. We want the best here and welcome anyone who wants to come drive in the Indy 500, especially with someone like Tony Stewart's qualifications" (ESPN.com, 12/10).
ONE-YEAR WONDER: SPEEDTV.com's Pruett cited sources as saying that IndyCar driver Rubens Barrichello has “accepted an offer to race full time in the Brazilian Stock Car series in 2013.” Prior to that decision, Barrichello “had been working to raise the funds to return to IndyCar with a Honda-powered team.” However, he “struggled to find all of the multi-million-dollar budget that was needed to land a competitive drive.” Teammate Tony Kanaan said, “They’re asking him for money to keep racing in IndyCar, and he doesn’t have all the sponsors. I know his heart is still in IndyCar, but he’s not going to sit and wait. It’s a shame" (SPEEDTV.com, 12/11).
Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Commissioner Karl Stressman yesterday appeared "upbeat [and] optimistic about the state of professional rodeo and where it's headed," according to Neal Reid of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. Stressman noted attendance this year "was up by 700,000." He added that "page views on ProRodeo.com are 39 percent higher than last year during the Wrangler NFR, there were 1,900 new permit holders, and 5,900 new rodeo entries, and total money at 591 PRCA rodeos was back above $39 million this year." Additionally, the association "launched a new ProRodeo application that has been downloaded nearly 14,000 times, and the PRCA has recently inked contract extensions" with Wrangler, Justin Boots and Great American Country (GAC). Stressman said, "Sponsors are saying, 'We really see the future of the PRCA as being a better opportunity for us.' They see we have the only product, professional rodeo, that can reach their consumers. The numbers are saying we're going off the charts. If we can put together some of these things, we're going to see the next two or three years as a huge growth opportunity for ProRodeo." The PRCA originally signed a TV deal with GAC in '10 and recently extended through '13. Stressman said, "We got a little push-back when we went from ESPN to GAC, and I understood it. But the responses we've gotten on GAC since then have been so positive, and it's unbelievable. I think it's a better fit, and I wouldn't have ever said for us to do it if I didn't think that." He also referred to the momentum PRCA has heading into '13 and said, "When the wave comes, you have to ride it. I guess the question is, 'How do you keep the wave rolling?' I'm not sure I have the answer, but I can tell you one thing, we're going to keep surfing down the front of it until something changes" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 12/12).
A federal judge yesterday turned down the NFL’s effort to further time-restrict claims by former players that NFL Films has illegally used their images. The development comes as settlement talks have collapsed between the two sides, with the judge readying a new scheduling order, which means litigation will continue. The judge appeared to back the retirees' central claim, which is that the contracts they signed did not give the league their image rights past the expiration of those deals, as the NFL argues. “To the extent the contracts even addressed publicity rights at all, none of the contracts extended the NFL’s control over the players’ publicity rights past the expiration of the contracts,” wrote Minnesota District Court Judge Paul Magnuson. “Because the written player contracts contained no provision for post-expiration publicity rights, either some other (oral or written) agreement governed or there was no agreement whatsoever and the NFL cannot use Plaintiffs’ publicity rights." The retirees and NFL already had agreed that a statute of limitations restricted claims for use of the players images in materials no more than six years before the lawsuit, Dryer v NFL, was filed on Aug. 29, 2009, meaning nothing before Aug. 25, 2003. But the league argued that various state laws could compress the time period even more. Magnuson said it was premature at this stage to rule on the issue. It is unclear the importance of Magnuson’s comment on the player contracts -- a comment that appears to undercut the league’s main argument. However, it came within a ruling on a motion not on the core merits of the case, but on the more arcane issue over statute of limitations (the NFL has not filed a motion to dismiss the case on the merits). The judge also added the expired contracts could be used as evidence of the NFL’s expectation of publicity rights.