When the “bounty gate” story broke, and when the suspensions of Gregg Williams, Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt were announced, the media, the majority of the NFL fanbase, and casual observers all stood behind Roger Goodell. Some went as far as to say his harsh penalties on the Saints were just the opposite, too light. People have called for Williams to be banned for life, for Payton and Loomis to be fired, for Payton to be banned for life… they’ve all been blasted in the public eye for lying, disobeying orders and their perceived “arrogance”. When the appeal was heard and swiftly shut down by Goodell, no one really blinked, although some went as far as suggesting the penalties should be stiffer for wasting Goodell’s time with an appeal. Defending the Saints’ brass has been a hard sell, and the negative outcries against the Saints for the last couple of months had reached a pinnacle.
But then something weird happened.
Goodell gave Jonathan Vilma a year suspension, Will Smith 4 games, Anthony Hargrove 8 games and Scott Fujita 3 games. Out of nowhere, the tables are starting to turn on Goodell and now the media and public are starting to criticize him for the unfair process (Goodell has sole jurisdiction on the penalties AND the appeal), having an 18 game agenda, and lacking the evidence necessary to justify the penalties he’s imposed on the players.
To me the shift in national opinion is strange. From the very beginning I felt you were either outraged by the Saints’ actions, in which case no penalty could ever be stiff enough, or you felt they were treated unfairly, in which case Goodell was viewed as a dictator. To hear from numerous non-Saints fan friends during the coach/GM process say that “you guys got off easy” and then hear the attitude after the player process that “you guys got screwed” just doesn’t add up. If anything, I kind of felt the opposite about each. I want to be clear that I still think the suspensions will be upheld. Goodell has the authority based on the new CBA, which the NFLPA signed. Vilma’s defense team is intelligent and they’ve come up with a pretty good argument/defense, but I don’t think it’ll work. Simply put, Goodell doesn’t have to show evidence. Forget what has to happen in a real court of law and forget what’s morally right… the CBA allows for this. Yes it’s unfair, and yes, Goodell should have to share evidence, but he doesn’t. He doesn’t have to be fair and he doesn’t have to share evidence. That’s the luxury that the new CBA has afforded him. Blame the NFLPA for signing off on it. You can talk morally all you want about how Goodell abusing his power is wrong, but it’s not against the rules. What the Saints did is against the rules. The minute they got caught they were at the mercy of his wrath. The process has not been fair at all, but it’s the reality of the unfair system in place.
Still, the negative publicity shifting to him has to be an unwanted surprise. In a business that thrives on fan support, Goodell needs approval in the court of public opinion. What I don’t understand is why Sean Payton is deserving of a year to some, but all of a sudden, Will Smith is “screwed” for getting 4 games. There was no evidence against Sean Payton whatsoever, but the public/media demand to come down on him was high. The only evidence the public has been privy to, at this point, incriminates Gregg Williams. That’s it. We know he directed players to target the injuries of opponents, but we don’t know whether the players took his directions literally and carried those actions out on the field. We don’t know if the evidence the NFL claims to have is solid. In fact, as time goes on, it becomes increasingly suspicious that they may not have much evidence. So I don’t understand the notion of Sean Payton’s guilt by association, but Jonathan Vilma’s innocence based on lack of evidence. The two don’t add up, and to me that seems flawed and hypocritical. Either you believe the Gregg Williams tape is enough evidence to hang them all, or you feel based on the evidence that Williams is the only one who can bear the brunt of this (along maybe with the organization as a whole).
None the less, this hypocritical mental shift by the public and media is welcome. Goodell is painted as more of a titan and that ultimately bodes well for the Saints. At the very least, it eases up the circus frenzy of negative publicity that has ravaged the team this offseason. At the most, it could actually work and reduce the penalties of the players making the team more competitive on the field. Either way, I can’t complain that people are finally waking up and realizing Roger Goodell is no Saint.