Quarterback Drew Brees pretty much summed up the initial reaction of everyone to Roger “Kenesaw Mountain” Goodell’s hammer falling on the New Orleans Saints Wednesday.
“I’m speechless,” the record-setting quarterback tweeted after his head coach was suspended for the entire 2012 season in the harshest of Goodell’s punishments to the New Orleans leadership that presided over the bounty system.
My secondary reaction to the NFL hanging judge’s verdict is – can he run the NCAA, too?
Goodell delivered the closest thing the NFL has ever seen to the “death penalty” sanctions that collegiate leaders have been loath to implement since SMU had its 1987 season cancelled for major violations. The Saints will be allowed to play next season, though without their head coach for the duration, assistant head and linebackers coach for six games and general manager for half the season.
“That’s exactly what it is. It’s crazy,” said Deon Grant of the “death penalty” analogy. The Josey grad and 12-year NFL veteran safety who won the Super Bowl with the New York Giants in February thinks the NFL is trying too hard to fundamentally change the nature of football.
“You come out and try to hit somebody as hard as you can, that’s the name of the game,” he said.
Goodell has yet to mete out discipline to the more than 20 players who participated in the pay-for-pain bounty system, but you can expect a good deal of roster replacements will be needed to fill out some vacancies of varying lengths. The Atlanta Falcons sure hope they get an early date in New Orleans to face their NFC South nemesis.
Goodell just ratcheted up his on-going campaign to change the culture of violence in the NFL. He’s been systematically handing out fines and suspensions for overly aggressive hits ever since taking over as commissioner in 2006, but this bounty-gate fell right into his lap to lower the boom in an unprecedented way.
If anybody doubted he means business, this makes that clear. In a flagship ruling that sends a message of intolerance for crossing the boundaries of competitive restraint, Goodell rebranded the Saints that were once the Ain’ts into the Taints. They can bring back the paper bags to the Superdome.
“Let me be clear,” Goodell said in his written statement. “There is no place in the NFL for deliberately seeking to injure another player, let alone offering a reward for doing so.”
There is no arguing this point, which he emphasized by docking head coach Sean Payton his $7 million salary for knowingly tolerating and trying to cover up the bounty system implemented by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (now suspended indefinitely with the Rams). That kind of beheading will get every coach’s attention even more than the $500,000 Bill Belichick was fined for videotaping other teams play-calling signals.
As despicable as the revelations are that Saints players were building a pot of cash to dole out for getting key opponents “carted off” the field with injuries, it’s naive to believe this mentality doesn’t exist throughout the NFL. It is entrenched in the sport’s gladiatorial culture, even if not in such a brazenly organized fashion as the Saints exhibited.
“From when you play little league football your coach tells you to ‘Take their running back out,’” said Grant. “He’s not telling you to try to hurt him for his career but have him intimidated for the rest of the game. At the end of the day it’s a physical sport. No matter how hard you try to protect a guy, if you hit him hard, he’s gonna get hurt.”
But Goodell is on a mission to turn that battleship around however counter-intuitive it might seem in a sport where the most crushing hits are highlighted every night on SportsCenter. Too many post-concussive lawsuits by maimed former players has forced Goodell to try to establish safeguards to save the future of America’s most popular and profitable sport.
Delivering what is sure to be a knockout blow in 2012 to one of the league’s most talented franchises is a major sign. The indignant Saints players can promise all they want to overcome Goodell’s harsh sanctions and reach the Super Bowl in their hometown this season, but the odds of that happening in this situation are astronomical.
Goodell isn’t messing around. Perhaps he can hold a few seminars with the tentative NCAA brass that is still in the wrist-slap business in trying the legislate corruption in the college ranks. Talk about lack of institutional control, the NCAA is rife with it.
Brees and his mates can argue that Payton “is a good man” and that his punishment is too harsh and doesn’t fit the crime. But the fact is the Saints covertly violated league rules and the head coach lied in trying to cover it up.
Goodell resorted to the nuclear option with only one thing in mind – nobody will ever think about doing anything like it again.
If anyone didn’t hear his message, then they won’t be in the NFL much longer.