For the past several weeks, we’ve known there was going to be punishment coming for Saints coaches involved in what has been called (annoyingly and predictably, I might add) “Bountygate.” Even though the average fan was probably getting bored with the story, it was being covered almost daily because of how severe the penalties were likely to be.
Now we know. In case you haven’t heard, Roger Goodell made an example of the Saints. As expected, several coaches were suspended including former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (indefinite suspension), head coach Sean Payton (one full year), and assistant head coach Joe Vitt (6 games.) G.M. Mickey Loomis was also suspended for 8 games and the team was fined $500,000 and forfeits second round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
My first reaction was that the suspensions were extreme, but the more I think about it and the more I hear, the more I think Goodell did what had to be done. The Saints first came under investigation in 2010, and denied having any bounty system. They were warned that the practice is against NFL rules and they needed to stop. They continued the bounties anyway and lied, probably several times, to Goodell about it happening. If you lie to the commissioner of the league, expect to pay for it.
While lying played a large part in the suspensions, the bigger part is definitely that players were being encouraged to knock star players out of the game and get rewarded for it. At a time when the NFL is pushing player safety more than ever, the Saints should have expected this kind of punishment. You can argue that it happens in all levels of football and on most teams, and maybe it does. And that is exactly why Goodell had to make an example out of the Saints coaching staff.
There are new lawsuits popping up all the time by former players claiming the NFL did nothing to protect them, and this is step by the commissioner to prove that the NFL does want to protect its players, even if it hasn’t done a great job in the past. If Goodell had just given the Saints coaches a slap on the wrist, he would have a hard time convincing anyone that all the new rules were done in the interest of the players’ health and safety as he has claimed all along. A popular opinion has been that the new rules were aimed at adding more offense to the game to appease the fans, and that safety was just the buzz word Goodell was using to make players feel like they were cared for. I think taking the head coach of one of highest-powered offenses off the sidelines for a year is a good indication Goodell really does have the players’ safety in mind.
I’ve heard arguments that the punishment shouldn’t have been so severe since none of the players known to have had a bounty placed on them (Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers, Kurt Warner, and Cam Newton) were injured by Saints players. To me, it’s not about who was hurt, it was about who could be hurt and how bad. There are players all the time that suffer injuries and aren’t able to play again. It happens from time to time and is unfortunately part of the game. But when those injuries could happen because a player was trying to collect a bounty, that’s unacceptable and needs to be put to an end.
I’ve also heard that the punishment was too harsh considering how (relatively) easy the Patriots got off for the also annoyingly named “Spygate.” Well, that’s not apples-to-apples first of all. It was cheating, but not putting anybody in any real danger. Also, “Bountygate” (I really wish I had a better name to call that) comes at a time when the League is being sued right and left over injuries former players suffered because they felt the NFL didn’t do enough to protect them. Kind of a bad time to be testing the commissioner on something like this. “Spygate” (ugh) was basically an isolated incident, and there weren’t any espionage lawsuits being filed against the NFL.
There will always be those who saying Goodell is taking all the hits and violence out of the game and this is just another example of the “wussification” of the NFL. I don’t agree with all of the new rules, but I agree with the decision on this matter. Something had to be done to show how serious this situation is.