Goodell Reinstates Saints' Sean Payton After Season-Long Ban, Effective Immediately
The NFL today announced that Commissioner Roger Goodell has “reinstated” Saints coach Sean Payton “from his season-long suspension, effective immediately,” according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com. The two met yesterday, with Payton “acknowledging his responsibility for the actions of his coaching staff and players” for the team's bounty scandal. Payton can “resume his coaching duties immediately,” which means he will be “able to attend the Senior Bowl this week and get back in the Saints' facility to start preparations for the offseason.” Reinstating Payton now “possibly eases some of the tension between the NFL and the city of New Orleans" before Super Bowl XLVII is played there on Feb. 3. It will be “interesting to see if Payton becomes a vocal presence during the week” (NFL.com, 1/22). ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas writes Payton, who is "viewed by many around the league as arrogant, came across as humble and somewhat contrite in a statement issued through the Saints soon after the news was announced." Yasinskas: "There are no winners and losers here. But there should be closure for the Saints. Goodell isn’t absolving Payton of anything in the bounty scandal. He simply is cutting Payton a break and letting him get back to work a little early" (ESPN.com, 1/22).
TIMING IS EVERYTHING: The New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Jeff Duncan said the timing of Payton's reinstatement “could not have been coincidental," as it comes a week before Super Bowl XLVII. Duncan: "I think the league was worried to some degree of the potential reaction in the city upon Goodell’s arrival in New Orleans.” Duncan: “I think it was a very wise move … (but) there’s always going to be rancor and contempt to some degree for what happened. In the minds of many Saints fans, this season was lost because of the bounty punishments on Sean Payton and the team. But I do think it certainly will allow people to move on.” NFL Network's Steve Wyche said, "This is kind of an olive branch of sorts to the city of New Orleans from Commissioner Roger Goodell, who is kind of arch enemy No. 1 down there in Bayou country." NFL Network’s Albert Breer said there is "clearly a PR element here,” as the NFL did not want this “hanging over their Super Bowl week.” The announcement now “allows the news to get out there and it gives it some time so it won’t affect the lead-up to the Super Bowl.” Breer: “It would have been a very awkward situation for the commissioner and the league to go into New Orleans with Sean Payton serving the last week of his suspension.” But the New Orleans Times-Picayune's Mike Triplett said this announcement “isn’t going to stem" any anti-Goodell sentiment in New Orleans. Triplett: “I don’t think doing this one week before the Super Bowl all of sudden all will be forgiven and Roger Goodell will get a hero’s welcome in town” (NFL Network, 1/22).
ENTERING HOSTILE TERRITORY? In N.Y., Sam Borden reports Super Bowl week is “typically a pleasant experience” for Goodell, and he is “ostensibly an honored guest in the host city.” However, fans of the hometown Saints “have been -- and, in many cases, continue to be -- livid at Goodell for the discipline he imposed on the team this season for the so-called bounty scandal.” Public outrage has been “evident for months.” Visitors to Internet message boards in the aftermath of the bounty scandal punishments “bandied about such savory topics as what they would do to Goodell if they happened to run into him in a dark alley, while protests from city residents appeared on posters, banners and T-shirts.” New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu at a lunch to discuss preparations for the Super Bowl urged residents to “mind your P’s and Q’s” when it came to Goodell. Super Bowl Host Committee co-Chair James Carville said, “He’s been a friend to this city. And whatever we think, people need to remember that around here we are always gracious when we welcome someone into our home.” Most residents “believe the city will show its displeasure in peaceful ways” (N.Y. TIMES, 1/22). YAHOO SPORTS’ Les Carpenter wrote New Orleans “would rather he not come at all,” as almost everybody in the city “believes Goodell ruined the Saints' season with his yearlong suspension of coach Sean Payton over the team's bounty program.” But there is “another Roger Goodell story in New Orleans.” After Hurricane Katrina hit in ’05 it “was Goodell, many say, who played almost as important a role as then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue in saving football in New Orleans.” SMG Senior VP/Stadiums & Arenas Doug Thornton serves as manager of the Superdome and “worked closely with Goodell to get the stadium rebuilt after Katrina.” Thornton said, "Roger has been such a good friend to New Orleans for many, many years. Sometimes people aren't privy to the behind-the-scenes work and know what he has done for this city" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 1/21).