Roger Goodell, NFL Owe Saints a Huge Apology for Bountygate Nonsense

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Roger Goodell, NFL Owe Saints a Huge Apology for Bountygate Nonsense
A. Messerschmidt/Getty Images

Paul Tagliabue made sure that the passion and the vernacular of the NFL locker room remained strong in his 22-page ruling on the New Orleans Saints bounty case Tuesday.

Tagliabue reversed NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s original and re-issued punishments of all four Saints’ players—Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove—and wiped away any suspensions for their involvement, or lack thereof in the alleged pay-for-injure scandal that rocked the Saints in the offseason.

In the most basic sense of things, Tagliabue said that while bounties may have been mentioned in the locker room, it was impossible to differentiate whether or not that talk actually persuaded any actions on the field of play.

It is essential to recognize that Vilma is being most severely disciplined for “talk” or speech at a team meeting on the evening before the Saints-Vikings game. He is not being punished for his performance on the field and, indeed, none of the discipline of any player here relates to on-field conduct. No Saints’ player was suspended for on-field play by the League after the game in question. If the League wishes to suspend a player for pre-game talk including “offers” to incentivize misconduct, it must start by imposing enhanced discipline for illegal hits that involve the kind of player misconduct that it desires to interdict. The relationship of the discipline for the off-field “talk” and actual on-field conduct must be carefully calibrated and reasonably apportioned. This is a standard grounded in common sense and fairness.

Passionate pregame speeches can stick around. Hall monitors won’t be placed in every locker room to ensure nothing negative or inciting is mouthed to fire a team up before a big game.

The league can return to a small sense of normalcy with Tagliabue’s decision. And his decision is one steeped in his background, just like Goodell’s was.

Goodell is an NFL guy, through and through. He joined the NFL as in intern in 1982 and worked his way up the corporate ladder in a fairy-tale rags-to-riches story. His decisions were based solely on protecting the NFL. Whether they were right or wrong, Goodell had the spirit of the NFL in his heart because that’s where his passions and loyalties are.

Tagliabue, on the other hand, spent 20 years practicing law before his 17-year tenure as commissioner. His decision Tuesday carried the weight of impartial decision maker. It also felt calculated, intelligent  and above all well researched.

There’s no doubt Tagliabue performed untold hours of due diligence to ensure that his decision was the best for every party involved. There’s no doubt that his decision was reserved, calm and made with the care of repercussions in mind.

Goodell didn’t have that luxury, or maybe better yet, he had that luxury but chose not to use it.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

After examining three years of investigative data, Goodell swiftly and harshly made a decision to punish the Saints and these four players. He moved too quickly in a effort to save face. He punished too severely for the same reasons.

Instead of taking his time and determining exactly what happened, and acting accordingly, Goodell feared major public backlash and handed out a whipping to the Saints.

Tagliabue erased that lashing on Tuesday, but he can’t erase the damage Goodell did with his swift course of action.

Goodell is going to have start mending that fence. It’s ironic that Goodell moved swiftly prior to the season to avoid a public-relations nightmare but instead created a maelstrom that sucked the life, and more importantly his good name, out of his role as Commissioner.

At the least, Goodell needs to execute a heartfelt and immediate apology to the four players who had their suspensions overturned Tuesday. Then, it’s very much time to examine the way future hearings are conducted and how the office of the Commissioner hands out “conduct detrimental to the league” punishments.

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