Wiedmer: Did disgust or disobedience prompt NFL's Roger Goodell?

Wiedmer: Did disgust or disobedience prompt NFL's Roger Goodell?

March 22nd, 2012 by Mark Wiedmer in Sportscolumns

New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton and then-defensive coordinator Gregg Williams talk at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans, La. The NFL has suspended Payton for the 2012 season, and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is banned from the league indefinitely because of the team's bounty program that targeted opposing players.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Anyone believing us to be a civilized society has to proudly trumpet the harsh yet fair penalties levied against the New Orleans Saints by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday.

Yes, players are hurt on every given Sunday in pro football, whether such pain and suffering was intended or not. That's unavoidable and unchangeable.

But when it came to light earlier this month that former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was putting out bounties to injure the opposition with full knowledge of New Orleans head coach Sean Payton and team general manager Mickey Loomis, Goodell had no choice but to make a statement that such barbaric behavior is totally unacceptable.

Explaining that, "We are all accountable and responsible for player health and safety and the integrity of the game," Goodell indefinitely suspended Williams from his new job as defensive coodinator of the St. Louis Rams, suspended Payton without pay for one year and suspended Loomis without pay for the first eight games of the 2012 season.

He also fined the Saints $500,000 and stripped them of their second-round draft picks for both this year and next.

And all of this is as it should be, as it must be in a sport where the average life expectancy of an NFL veteran is 55 years and possibly shrinking.

Again, this isn't about turning the NFL into the NFFL (National Flag Football League). Sheer physics guarantee that two 250-pound objects traveling at roughly the same high speeds will inevitably tempt injury upon impact. As long as it's a legal hit, hey, no one's forcing these modern gladiators to play.

But that wasn't enough for Williams. Involving anywhere from 22 to 27 defensive players, the coach's scheme paid $1,500 for "knockouts" and $1,000 for "cart-offs." Opposing quarterbacks such as the Green Bay Packers' Aaron Rodgers, Carolina's Cam Newton, former Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre and former Phoenix QB Kurt Warner were all targeted.

According to the NFL's investigation, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma even offered $10,000 to any player who could remove Favre from the 2010 NFC title game, which New Orleans nearly did in one of the more transparent efforts to KO a QB in recent postseason memory.

No wonder Goodell described the whole mess as "Particularly unusual and disgusting."

Beyond that, if it's true that adversity doesn't so much build character as reveal it, then Saints quarterback Drew Brees might have some work to do.

In yet another example of why folks should think before they Tweet, Brees wrote of the penalties: "I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for this."

Here's an explanation, Drew: Why don't you ask your wife how she'd feel if that had been you instead of Favre whom Vilma was offering $10,000 to knock out of the game? Moreover, ask her how she'd feel if your career ended on such a play, or worse.

But necessary and promising as Goodell's ruling was, if this was so egregious, why didn't the league act when it first heard of the bounties in 2010, or at least when they found more substantial evidence during the past season?

Was Goodell more furious that the Saints didn't stop this when first questioned in 2010, or was he more defensive that Sports Illustrated first broke the story of Vilma's $10,000 bounty to wound Favre?

Is it not at least plausible that Goodell's wrath is because the story became public; that without SI the NFL's 50,000-page report might have remained as secret as the Warren Commission report on the assassination of President Kennedy?

And are we really to believe that the Saints are the only franchise that had such a bounty program? And if they weren't, is Goodell willing to similarly penalize other offenders?

Of course, Goodell was at least somewhat upstaged on Wednesday by at least one quarterback he's attempting to protect.

After 18 years of trying, Peyton Manning may have finally gotten to stick it to a Florida Gator by signing with the Denver Broncos, a move that led the Broncs to trade Tebow to the New York Jets.

But any belief that Tim Terrific can raise the character of the Jets is laughable. Coach Rex Ryan is a clown and their roster has enough cartoon characters to fill a Disney movie. Given the makeup of the Jets, Goodell's newest concern may be the NFL's most dysfunctional franchise taking out a bounty on its newest QB.