Message to Saints: Don't mess with the Commish
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made a clear statement by handing down some painful penalties for the New Orleans Saints' bounty program.
Seattle Times NFL reporter
Thou shalt not mess around with The Commissioner.
Everyone got that?
When NFL commissioner Roger Goodell calls you into his office to decide whether he's going to rap your knuckles with a ruler or give you detention for a year, beg for mercy. Do not, under any circumstances, dig in your heels.
If you stonewall him the way he feels the New Orleans Saints did in the league's investigation of their bounty program, the commissioner is going to grab you by the ear and haul you out of the league.
Saints coach Sean Payton? See you next year. Mickey Loomis, the team's top executive and a former Seahawk? Eight-game suspension. Former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who's now with the Rams? Well, Goodell might let you back in the league in 2013. Might. Depends how the Commish is feeling a year from now.
Even the NCAA thought the NFL was a bit draconian. And actually, the NCAA could learn a thing or two on how to punish individuals, not just institutions, for their transgressions.
Yes, the Saints took a hit. They lost a second-round draft choice this year and a second-rounder next year, plus a cool half a million dollars. But those sanctions are a whisper compared to the welts left by sending Payton into exile for a year.
He's the coach who led New Orleans to the playoffs in four of the past six seasons and guided the franchise to its first Super Bowl and the top of the NFL. Now he's on the outside looking in for the next year.
I'm not sure just how egregious the Saints' bounty program truly was. It violated the league's financial rules as well as any sense of sportsmanship by using cash as an incentive to injure specific opponents. It created a culture of illegal tactics and malicious practices, not to mention being totally tone deaf to the rising concern of football injuries.
But let's not pretend the Saints were a rogue franchise. Every weekend football players go into games with the intention of hitting an opponents so hard they leave the game. They want to do it cleanly. They want to do it legally. But the emphasis and embrace of vicious hits is why they are replayed on television for viewers and in meeting rooms for players.
Is the NFL trying to change that culture? Maybe. It's trying to take some of the risk out of the most dangerous plays involving quarterbacks and other vulnerable players. It's certainly trying to change the perception. That was evident the past two seasons when the league began fining defensive players large chunks of money for hits to the head of a defenseless receiver. It was an obvious component of the punishment Wednesday against the Saints.
Player safety has become political, and it's apparent Goodell wants to emphasize it in his tenure as commissioner. (How that is reflected in the league's previous desire to add two more regular-season games is a contradiction for another day.)
The concern for player safety is legitimate. How can you look at the physical ailments of retired players — some of whom are suing the league — and think there's no problem? There's also a practical element to the concern for player safety. Head injuries in football are now being discussed as a public-health risk by some, and the NFL can't ignore that without risking its status as the nation's most popular sports league.
Given that reality, how could Goodell do anything but crack the whip on a Saints team that he found not only had a system in place to reward its team members for injuries inflicted on the opponent, but then denied it and kept doing it.
More than anything else, the severity of the punishment was about clout. Goodell showed he has the biggest stick in the room, and if you lie to the commissioner, mislead him or do anything else to impede his ability to govern the game, he's going to use it.
Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or email@example.com.
On Twitter @dannyoneil