Thursday, March 22, 2012
Out of respect for Amanda and I's 11th anniversary I put off commenting on the Saints Bounty punishment until today. It's still difficult for me to wrap my head around yet.
First, as to the on field danger it represented to other players, I think it's foolish and sanctimonious for anyone to act as though any team takes on a QB like Brady, Manning, Warner, Favre, Newton, or even Brees and doesn't have as a major portion of their strategy the goal to get to the QB early, hard, and to punish them. Take them out of the game if possible. I see a lot of people throwing stones in this glass house, and it's getting under my skin. If the Saints were not penalized for illegal hits, that falls on the officiating crews, but keep in mind that they were one of the least penalized teams in the league over that span. So the idea that their on field play was dirty or somehow more dangerous to other teams is bullshit and hyperbole. It's also hypocritical in the extreme.
Now, to the Bounty program itself, I see that as a more difficult issue. It does cross a line. Now I do not for a minute believe that teams like the Steelers, Ravens and Jaguars are without some form of rewards program for their defenses. And while Goodell may want to act like he's tough and uncompromising, I find it extremely suspect that none of Williams previous teams, teams where bounty programs also clearly existed, are getting any kind of comeuppance. The "lack of evidence" being touted simply smacks of convenience. The reality is that the league can weather, maybe even come out stronger for making an example of one team. But if they had to shine a light on all the dark, violent corners of the entire league it would screw up Goodell's clear intention to rebrand the NFL as family friendly entertainment. So yes, the Saints crossed a line, but so have most of the teams in the league. In this specific instance the sin was getting caught.
Which brings us to what I find the most troubling aspect of all of this. As is often the case, the crime pales in comparison to the cover up. At some point, fair or not, you gotta own up to your choices and take what comes. It's seems clear that the Saints had opportunities to shut down the bounty program and didn't. That they lied about its existence, and then tried to keep it from getting out. That is unacceptable and what I find most disappointing.
Now as to the punishment, particularly Payton's suspension without pay for a year, essentially a $7 million fine. I think it is miles beyond any previous punishment the league has ever levied. I think that the Saints, and Payton in particular are paying the bill for the heat Goodell caught for his limp response to Spygate, for the unpopularity of Goodell's "illegal" hit fines last season, and for Goodell trying to reconsolidate power after the strain of the lockout last year. I believe that Goodell's interest here is not player safety, but protecting an NFL that he is trying to rebrand as a wholesome, Disney World worthy sport. I think he's a hypocrite that will happily punish those he sees fit, while taking it easy on others to satisfy his own personal goals without regard to consistency or fairness.
But despite all that, I still think the punishment is warranted. Because to me the Saints represent a higher standard. They represent a team that is indistinguishable from the city it represents. New Orleans and the Saints share a heartbeat. They share a story of trial and strength, recovery from very dark places. To me the Saints are an inspiration, they are heroes. And I do not require my heroes to be perfect, but I do require them to answer for their actions.
Payton was wrong. The Saints were wrong. The bounty program was wrong. The fact that the rest of the league and all the analysts may be giant hypocrites right now doesn't matter. We're better than that. We will come back stronger for that.
I love my Saints and all that they stand for, mistakes and all. We will take the punishment, we will take the scorn, and we will soldier on - as fans, as a franchise, as people. Because that's what the Saints are really about.
PS - Somebody please shut down Morstead's twitter account.