Many newspapers in America gave front-page coverage to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to suspend New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for the coming year (costing him his $7.5 million salary), former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis for the first eight regular-season games next season and assistant head coach Joe Vitt for six games. In addition, the franchise was fined $500,000 and lost several high future draft picks.
The penalties were leveled in the aftermath of an investigation of the Saints’ illegal bounty program designed, in part, to injure opposing players from 2009 to 2011. It was the strongest punishment in league history.
Drew Brees, the Pro Bowl quarterback of the Saints, said via Twitter, “I am speechless. Sean Payton is a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is. I need to hear an explanation for punishment.”
How about (for starters) lying to the NFL during its investigation and refusing to stop the program after the league had ordered it to do so. You could add to the list conduct that is disgraceful (paying a bounty to players whose hit causes another player to be taken off the field on a stretcher borders on malevolence). And protecting players from injury. And the integrity of the game. And sending a message that will prevent anything like this from every happening again.
It is precisely because football is an inherently violent game that clear boundaries need to be drawn and certain rules abided by. The New Orleans Saints, a franchise that a few years ago was the feel-good sports story of the year, has stained itself in ways that will be hard to recover from.
Roger Goodell, on the other hand, acted in an appropriate and impressive manner. He sent a powerful message, including a powerful moral message that will become a model for other profession sports leagues.