The NFL had to do it. What other choice did commissioner Roger Goodell have?
Goodell suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the 2012 season, Rams (and former Saints) defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, general manager Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. The Saints will also lose their second-round draft picks in 2012 and 2013.
So why do it? It’s about covering Goodell’s backside. As NFL commissioner, Goodell answers to 32 owners who enjoy making, not losing, money. And right now, the league is at the center of a controversy over concussions.
Hundreds of former players are suing the NFL over brain injuries they claim were caused from playing professional football. Specifically, the lawsuit claims the league hid the damaging effects of concussions.
In the last few years, there have been several noteworthy deaths related to NFL concussions. In 2006, former Eagle Andre Waters committed suicide. In 2011, former Bear Dave Duerson purposefully ended his life with a bullet to his chest, hoping to keep his brain intact for scientific study.
The resulting analysis showed that Duerson had brain damage and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) consistent with someone who suffered multiple concussions. CTE can result in the deterioration of a person’s brain tissue.
The problem has become so big, the Boston University School of Medicine has a Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy. Hundreds of former professional athletes, including scores of NFL players, have agreed to donate their brains to science upon their passing. Those NFL players include(d) Duerson, John Mackey, Matt Birk, Zach Thomas, Kyle Turley, Mike Haynes, Conrad Dobler and Joe DeLamielleure.
Clearly, it’s not in the owners interest to be seen overseeing a dangerous activity. But the NFL is just that. Every play is like a car accident without the airbag. So if the sport can take a stand, it will.
In a court of law, it looks a lot better to be able to point to actions that show a sincere effort to limit concussions and their aftermath. Hence, the new guidelines in recent years determine whether a player should return to action.
Of course, the league cannot stop two players, or perhaps an entire defense, from an on-the-fly, in-the-heat-of-battle challenge. For example, in PG language, one player might say, “Hey, their wide receiver is killing us. A hundred bucks to anyone who plants him in the turf.”
But that’s much different than the systematic, orchestrated set of bounties that the Saints allegedly operated during the past few seasons. You can’t have management running those types of things. That opens the door to accountability and lawsuits, which is what the NFL is trying to avoid. And that’s why Sean Payton and Gregg Williams will be sidelined, but not on the sidelines, in 2012.