SBD/December 13, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Amid Tagliabue's Decision, Goodell Said That He Doesn't Owe Saints Players An Apology

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Goodell said he is in contact with Sean Payton about the timing of his reinstatement
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell yesterday said that he “doesn't owe the four previously suspended players the league connected to the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal an apology,” according to Larry Holder of the New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE. Goodell “stood firm about his feelings that the Saints conducted a pay-to-injure scheme.” He said former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue in his decision "said there's no one here who should feel good about their role in this with respect to the Saints." Goodell: "To have a bounty program where you're targeting players for injury, it's completely unacceptable in the NFL, it's clear that occurred for three years despite all of the denials." He added that he and Tagliabue “agree that clearly the league views the actions” of Saints LB Jonathan Vilma, DE Will Smith and free agent Anthony Hargrove as “conduct detrimental.” He said that where the two disagree “was on the discipline aspect.” Goodell said that it “doesn't usurp his power as commissioner with Tagliabue wiping the suspensions away” (NOLA.com, 12/12). Meanwhile, Goodell said that his office has communicated with suspended Saints coach Sean Payton "about his eventual reinstatement.” ESPN.com’s Ed Werder noted Goodell “did not eliminate the possibility of Payton rejoining the franchise before the Super Bowl.” A source said that Payton would “like an adjustment on the suspension so it would end at the conclusion of the regular season as opposed to after the Super Bowl.” Goodell yesterday said that he and Payton “briefly have discussed the reinstatement process they will follow and that more focused conversations are planned after the upcoming holidays” (ESPN.com, 12/12).

DUE PROCESS: In New Orleans, Terrance Harris noted Saints QB Drew Brees “took dead aim" at Goodell and the NFL front office as he "leveled harsh criticism for how the case was mishandled from start to finish, saying there was much more interest in achieving an outcome than making certain the process was fair and correct.” Brees said that vacating the suspensions of the players “should be just the beginning of the NFL correcting a wrong.” Brees: "What I would like to see is the level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to the mishandling of this entire situation. We as players hold ourselves to very strict code of conduct on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that as it should be. I feel they should be held to the same standards.” He added that Goodell and the league office “have ‘very little to no credibility’ with the players for the way it botched the nine-month investigation.” Brees: "We all had a good feeling just because a lot of us know the truth in the matter and know just how unfair this process has been the entire time, just hoping and praying that Tagliabue would see it as such." Meanwhile, Vilma and Smith “expressed relief Wednesday that they have been vindicated with the overturning of the suspensions, but they were disappointed they were not completely exonerated.” Tagliabue in his decision reiterated that Vilma was “the ring leader.” Harris noted the idea that he is “still painted in such a way galls Vilma and is a large part of the reason he is going forward with a defamation lawsuit against Goodell” (NOLA.com, 12/12).

COURT REPORT: The TIMES-PICAYUNE's Holder in a separate piece reported Vilma in a filing in U.S. District Court yesterday indicated that he “does not intend to challenge” Tagliabue's decision to vacate his suspension. Holder in a separate piece reported Smith, Hargrove and Browns LB Scott Fujita “also filed in court that they won't challenge Tagliabue's decision” (NOLA.com, 12/12). Vilma indicated that he will pursue his defamation lawsuit against Goodell, and ESPN's Dan Le Batard said the move is not “petty” but is “vigilant and principled." Le Batard: "It’s another example why Roger Goodell picked the wrong guy to mess with.” Tagliabue's ruling "isn’t an ending for Vilma, it’s a starting point on getting money from the league in a defamation suit" ("Dan Le Batard Is Highly Questionable," ESPN2, 12/12).

PAUL'S PATH: In N.Y., Judy Battista writes the NFL, like “virtually everyone else, was surprised by Tagliabue’s decision.” It had “never imagined that he could at once agree that Jonathan Vilma had put a bounty on [former Vikings QB Brett] Favre, and then rule that he should not be disciplined, not even fined.” But even including that “seeming contradiction, Tagliabue succeeded where Goodell’s blast-furnace discipline had failed: he held a full hearing, in which the accused players … as well as coaches and officials, were allowed to see evidence and question their accusers.” Tagliabue also created a "nuanced decision that offered a chance for everyone to claim at least a portion of victory, while also tweaking the behavior of some (Goodell) and hammering others, most glaringly Saints coaches and other officials.” The players with no discipline to contest will “not seek intervention by a federal judge.” If that had happened, the judge “might have tried to limit the power of the commissioner’s office, a result the league wanted to avoid.” For as much as Tagliabue’s decision “was a very public reproach of Goodell’s handling of the case, that is a long-term win for the league” (N.Y. TIMES, 12/13).

ROGER THAT: ESPN DALLAS’ Jean-Jacques Taylor wrote under the header, “Roger Goodell’s Authority Takes A Hit.” Taylor wrote: “No longer is Goodell alpha and omega when it comes to doling out punishment. These days, the sun no longer rises and sets on his judgments.” If players can “get Goodell to appoint a hearing office to handle an appeal -- even if they must use public pressure to do so -- then they have a good chance to get his decision overruled.” Whether Goodell “chooses to acknowledge or admit he has lost some authority is irrelevant.” Taylor: “All we have to do is look at what happened in the much-publicized Saints bounty case” (ESPNDALLAS.com, 12/12).
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