What really surprised me yesterday about the league’s far-reaching sanctions meted out to the New Orleans Saints organization wasn’t how severe they were (honestly, I would have been tougher than Goodell) but Goodell’s statement regarding the longitudinal deception and ongoing incentive to main quarterbacks including our own Aaron Rodgers:

This went on for three years, and it was investigated. We were misled, there were denials throughout that period. Clearly, we were lied to. We investigated this back in 2010. We were told it was not happening, and it continued for another two years.

Looking back at the 2010 NFC, I still remember how shocked I was over how severely bruised Brett Favre’s face was. By then he was persona non grata in my books, but still, wow, he had taken a beating that I had never seen before in a game. He looked like he had been punched in the face several times. Favre and Warner in 2010, Rodgers and even Cam Newton as recently as this past season, their lives reduced to nothing more than pocket change to those making multi-millions per year. This wasn’t an isolated incentive. It was far reaching and corrupted many in the Saints organization.

That said, I’m not surprised by the depth and breadth of the punishments:

  • Head coach Sean Payton: suspended without pay for entire 2012 season
  • Former Saints/current Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams: suspended without pay indefinitely (aka NFL Death Penalty)
  • General Manager Mickey Loomis: suspended without pay for first 8 games of 2012 season
  • Assistant head coach Joe Vitt: suspended without pay for first 6 games of 2012 season
  • Saints stripped of second round draft choices in 2012 (remember they traded away their first round pick this year to grab Mark Ingram) as well as 2013
  • Saints fined $500,000

If that doesn’t cut the head off the proverbial monster, I don’t know what does. It sends the indisputable message that behavior of this nature will never be tolerated. And this is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to handing down the hurt. The NFL has yet to rule on the guilty players–at last report may number in mid-twenties. At least Williams has gone on the record apologizing as learned his fate. Can’t say the same about Sean Payton and his hubris. Can’t say that for Drew Brees either.

I used to respect Brees, maybe even like him as a player and human being. Right now I’m not so sure. The defiance he exuded today was really nauseating :

I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for this punishment.

Hey Drew, is that cluelessness or sheer arrogance you’re trying to bring across in 140 characters or less? I can’t believe he is acting like Payton is the victim in all this.

But what about Drew Brees? Since he thinks Sean Payton did no wrong, aren’t you dying to know what his role was in this far-reaching conspiracy?

It’s no surprise Brees has tried to take the high road and claimed that he had nothing to do with the bounty program. His comments have been carefully crafted to sound magnanimous, innocent and righteously shocked that his team could have pulled off something so malicious. He even went so far to make sure everyone and their dog knew where he stood on the issue in an open letter on his own website (bold emphasis mine):

There is no place in the National Football League, or any sport played at any level, for players to conspire, to be coerced, or to be incentivized to intentionally injure another player. I did not participate in any Bounty program, nor did I have any knowledge relating to its real existence . I have spent the last several years as an Executive Committee Member of the NFLPA making health and safety a priority and I am proud of the advancements we’ve made and will continue to make.

Now the last thing I am going to do is put words in Drew Brees’ mouth, nor am I a mind reader. I’m not that dumb and I know he can afford a much bigger lawyer than I ever could. But in my opinion this statement seems to have three goals in mind:

  1. Condemn the scandal. After all, it’s the first step in distancing one’s self from anything bad is to emphatically come out against it.
  2. Create plausible deniability . How can you be guilty of a conspiracy of silence if you didn’t think the phenomenon exists in the first place? No need repudiate, prevent, or stop anything if it nothing more than a fart in the wind. For me, the bolded phrase seems far too deliberate of verbiage that it stands out.
  3. Acknowledge his butt is on the line and he runs the risk of tarnishing the image and credibility of the NFLPA if he doesn’t distance himself and his leadership role within the Players’ Association from any scandal of this proportion post haste.

Now I’m not saying he knew anything about the bounty incentives. I’m not remotely suggesting he threw money into the pot. But this was so broad of a scandal that two dozen players may yet be punished. It tainted a lot of people, probably more than we will ever know.  If it was truly something that huge, don’t you think the whole locker room would have heard about it after three years? Yes, teams compartmentalize into offense and defense to prepare for the week, but come on, don’t you ever wonder how much of a battle cry the bounties became in the pregame locker room? Did you ever wonder how those bounties were paid off? Were they quiet, unannounced, impossible to trace envelopes stuffed with unmarked twenties that showed up mysteriously in lockers after games? Or were they celebrated and publicly announced much like  my Monday practices in high school track where we gathered to applaud teammates that broke personal best, school or conference records in the previous meet?

Maybe he knew nothing–either by chance or by choice–about the bounty program. But what does that say about his ability and skills as the starting quarterback? To say he truly knew nothing about it, makes you wonder how well he knew his own team, and how well can you lead a team if you don’t know what’s going on underneath your nose? If that’s the case, cluelessness doesn’t bode well if you’re a team captain or leader either.

There’s a reason quarterback is called a field general (which for practical purposes is akin to a field marshal which is the highest ranking military officer if you want to nerd out and break down definitions.) A leader at that level doesn’t tend to function in a vacuum. They tend to have their fingers on the pulse of everything beneath them. A starting quarterback is no different. They are the de facto leaders of the playing corps, the coaching staff’s right hand. Teams are built around them. A team rises or falls with their leadership skills. They set the tone and they invariably lead by example.

So where was the New Orleans Saints’ field general for the past three years?

I’m more than willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if he has a valid explanation , you know, that same thing he is demanding of Roger Goodell. After all, he could very well be the whistle blower and not Jeremy Shockey   as Warren Sapp falsely asserted. For his own long-term legacy, I hope to God that he was the snitch that took a huge risk to do the right thing.

There are going to be many, many defensive players that are going to be sanctioned in one way or another, some more severely than others. We can all agree that those who actively participated in the bounties–either as a hit man or one paying for the hit–should be punished swiftly and severely.

But what about those leaders on the field that knew very well what was going on and sat silent for three years and did nothing, passively allowing teammates to put hits–which for the record would be a felony in apparently just about every other workplace than the NFL–on their peers on other teams? Was Win at All Cost such a corrupting temptation that they were more than willing to risk the safety, livelihood and long-term health of counterparts on the other 31 teams?

The bounties were bad, really, really bad.

But what about the sin of omission? Who on the Saints can say they are not guilty of that? How do you deal with that sort of insidious yet equally evil problem?

 

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  • Anita

    My respect for Drew Brees took a major hit this past season when I saw him playing late into blowout games and padding his stats to break Marino’s record. He was throwing against the hapless Colts with 62 points already in the bank. Yes, Sean Payton and his aforementioned ego and hubris were also in play here. In contrast, Aaron Rodgers could have very well broken the 5000 yard single season passing yard plateau last season, but instead put his friend Matt Flynn first and let him have an entire game to “try out” for other teams. That’s a team player.

    Sean Payton tripped my asshole radar before this. Wasn’t there a problem down there with missing prescription drugs from the trainer’s room, that Payton was well aware of, several years ago?

    And I’m sorry, Drew, but you are the QB. That makes you the team leader. Are you assuming that we’re all stupid enough to believe that you don’t know what’s going on in your own locker room? That your ears were constantly occupied with your I-Pod buds (listening to good, clean, upstanding Christian music, no doubt) so that you were totally unaware that ANYTHING like this was going on? Come on, man. Color me skeptical. Added to the fact that these “bounties” were primarily against the men in your fraternity, the men you share a kinship and bond with. Your fellow quarterbacks. Not to mention that one of those men with a price on his head, was a man you train with in San Diego in the off season, who looked to you as a mentor? Can you look Aaron Rodgers in the face and say, “Sorry, man. I didn’t know anything about it.” I certainly hope you’re telling the truth and you had NO IDEA this was going on, because if not, I’m afraid there may be a healthy dose of Karma waiting for you behind door number one.

    • Colleen

      What Anita said. I really can’t say it better than that.

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