SPORTS WATCH
Punishments in Bountygate Have Already Gone Too Far
by Gus Jarvis
Apr 07, 2012 | 932 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Boy, I’m not sure any of us knew how big this whole so-called Bountygate scandal was going to be, but like many things in the National Football League these days, it started small and now continues to snowball into a bigger and bigger story every day. Unfortunately for the New Orleans Saints and their loyal fans there is no end in sight with this one.

An NFL investigation concluded earlier this year that the 2009-2011 Saints offered cash incentives, or bounties, for big hits that either knocked opposing players out of games or injured players to the point they needed a cart off the field. When the news of this bounty system first hit, I’m not sure anyone was very surprised that this type of thing was going on in an NFL locker room. I sure wasn’t. Growing up, I’d always heard of bounties being put on certain player’s heads. It was a thing you weren’t supposed to do, but it seemed everyone, especially the Raiders, seemed to do under the radar.

I hate to use the cliché that many teams had some sort of bounty or incentive program or contest in place but the New Orleans Saints just got caught, but it seems to work. The Saints got caught and now they are going to pay for their mistake big time. Already NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has suspended head coach Sean Payton for all of next season, Saints general Manager Mickey Loomis for eight games, and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. The Saints were also fined $500,000 and lost two second-round draft picks in Goodell’s list of punishments.

Oh yeah, let’s not forget former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, who has since been hired as defensive coordinator with the Rams, he’s been suspended indefinitely from the NFL by Goodell as he was the one who apparently organized the bounty program. I’d say his coaching days in the NFL are pretty much done. He might want to look for somewhere else now.

Anyway, I don’t think anyone knew how big this Bountygate thing was going to be until Goodell handed his punishments down and shocked the world by suspending Payton for an entire season. Really? An entire season?

Here is a guy who led the Saints to Super Bowl greatness just a few years ago. Not only is Payton the face of the Saints franchise, he’s the face of hope in a city that needed a hell of a lot of hope after Hurricane Katrina. And now because an informal bounty system was uncovered by the NFL, he’s out for an entire season? Seems a bit harsh. I still can’t believe Goodell hit him with that strong of a suspension. All of the other suspensions and punishments are fine. But the Saints, the city and the NFL need Payton as a part of the game at some point this year. A punishment of eight games would have been just fine and sent a plenty strong message. It seems Goodell likes being a cop more than he likes promoting professional football these days.

Perhaps Goodell will find some sense. According to an Associated Press report, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Payton, Loomis and Vitt are set to have an appeals hearing with Goodell on Thursday. Perhaps it was Goodell’s intention all along to slam the team with unusually harsh penalties and then lighten at least Payton’s suspension just a little. Maybe so? Probably not.

Payton’s season-long suspension was set to begin last Sunday, but because of the appeals it hasn’t started yet. I bet we’ll hear Goodell’s decision on their appeals in the next few days. Unfortunately for the Saints, though, those aforementioned suspensions may be the tip of the iceberg.

Goodell has yet to determine whether players who were involved in the program will also be suspended or disciplined somehow. If Payton weren’t enough, the Saints could lose a hell of a lot of players very soon. According to Bloomberg.com, between 22 and 27 Saints defensive players paid each other as much as $10,000 for targeting opponents. If Goodell decides to punish that many players, the Saints won’t have a defense to put on the field this year.

As if this all weren’t enough, the NFL Players Association, it has been reported, has hired a lawyer to represent any players who might face criminal charges in this whole bounty program scandal. Players could face criminal charges? Give me a break.

Of course, I don’t have all the nasty little details of what the NFL investigation found, but as I understand it, this bounty system was pretty informal and involved players throwing small amounts of money at other players for doing certain things on the field. Its not like they were throwing enough money around to buy a new Maserati, they were throwing enough money around to go out on an expensive, Champagne-filled dinner. To think that players face criminal charges in all of this seems like a huge can of worms. Did players actually get hurt from the bounties? Prove it. How was the Saints intent to harm different from the intent to harm that naturally occurs in a football game? Prove it.

If there were illegal hits during games, where were the referees in all of this? I don’t remember any suspensions for illegal hits during those two years, or substantial fines. Do you? That’s what makes all of this so interesting. There were no severe punishments handed out during those seasons for illegal plays or nasty hits. Where was Goodell then? I know he has his boys watching every play of ever game.

It would be one thing to have a Saints player break a quarterback’s leg during a game and later come to find out that the injury was a result of a bounty, but that didn’t happen. I just find it funny that the NFL thinks this bounty system was so bad yet never scrutinized the team during those seasons for illegal play. Why now?

The NFL seems to be more fishy in this than the Saints do. Oh well, if anything, all of this will give me a reason to cheer for the Saints this year. They have their backs against the wall in a sport that only seems to care about quarterbacks and passing. It will be an interesting season down in the Big Easy. Secretly, fans who love the game of football will be cheering for the Saints this year. No doubt about that.

gjarvis@watchnewspapers.com or @gusgusj

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