Instead of keeping sole control over the punishment for the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty scandal, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has decided to let his predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, hold the next hearings. It's undoubtedly the right decision.
To this point, Goodell has maintained complete oversight over the suspensions. It was a unique, and unfair from the players' point of view, situation. An appeals panel even vacated the punishment before Goodell reissued his judgment.
Now that the four players involved—Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove—are waiting for another appeal hearing, it wouldn't have made much sense for Goodell to hear them again. It's clear his mind is set on the subject.
By giving Tagliabue control, Goodell at least gives the impression the players will get a fair shot telling their side of the story to someone with an open mind. The meetings have been pushed to Oct. 30 so Tagliabue can get up to speed with the basics.
Goodell and Tagliabue have had a relationship for quite some time, something that likely worries the players. But in the press release announcing the decision Goodell states he has not discussed the bounty issue with the former commissioner.
"To be clear, I have not consulted with Paul Tagliabue at any point about the Saints matter nor has he been any part of the process. Furthermore, under our process the hearing officer has full authority and complete independence to decide the appeal and determine any procedural issues regarding the hearings. I will have no role in the upcoming hearings or in Mr. Tagliabue's decisions."
Even though Goodell is making the right call, it doesn't guarantee the switch will change anything from the players' perspective because it puts Tagliabue in a tough spot. There's already a built-in excuse if things don't go their way.
If Tagliabue doesn't reduce the punishment, the players can say the change was for appearance only and didn't actually give them a level playing field.
Yet Goodell didn't really have a choice. He couldn't continue on the current path, which just caused the situation to keep going around in circles. The league needs resolution as soon as possible so it can leave the entire mess behind.
It's clear the NFL has a growing image problem. Between the replacement referee debacle, ongoing concussion issues and Bountygate, it hasn't exactly been a banner year for the predominate sports league in the country.
Part of Goodell's job is to stop the bleeding. Removing himself from the case is a step in the right direction, even though the story will linger until an ultimate resolution is finally reached. Perhaps he's starting to realize there are limits.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the change impacts the situation, if at all. It's time for this story to come to an end one way or another.
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