2:44 AM PDT, May 3, 2012
NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been right on point with his bounty hunt — until Wednesday.
Now he's gone too far. The harsh suspensions for the four Saints players involved in their bounty program is over the top, and I believe no court in the land will conclude otherwise.
An entire season for Jonathan Vilma? Seriously? Half a season for Anthony Hargrove, one of the most engaging players in Eagles training camp last year? You've got to be kidding.
For what? Trying to be good teammates and doing what their coaches tell them to do?
Goodell obviously must have forgotten what it was like to play the game and must have little or no feel for what professionals go through daily.
It was Gregg Williams and Sean Payton and the Saints staff that put these players in these compromised positions in the first place. All of the supposedly guilty players believed then, as they believe now, that standing up to something they might have believed was wrong would carry far greater consequences than going along with the program and maybe just not carrying out explicit instructions.
That's what they seemed to do.
Until Goodell can roll out evidence of specific take-out hits by any of these four players or their followers, he needs to stop poking this thing with a stick, because it will eventually blow up on him.
We know about how the four suspended players supposedly either offered money out of their pockets to supplement what the coaches were paying for knocking opponents from games or conspired to cover up the entire thing.
But even if this were the case, they never would have hatched the bounty idea on their own, without the idea first coming from their bosses.
Vilma, the most egregious offender, has denied offering money.
NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith reacted by saying the union still has "not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program. We have made it clear that punishment without evidence is not fair. We have spoken with our players and their representatives and we will vigorously protect and pursue all options on their behalf."
My advice to Vilma, Hargrove, Will Smith (suspended four games) and Scott Fujita (three games)? Don't even bother with what will no doubt be a sham of an appeals process. Just hire the best lawyers they can find and start suing anybody and everybody who put them in this position, and especially the NFL and Goodell for taking massive amounts of money from them for failing to publicly stand up to their bosses.
Hope it happens, too. Because the justice system, I believe, will work in this case.
Goodell has become known for serving prohibitive penalties with little or no mercy. In most cases, he's right.
Not here. This time, he needs to look at it from the other side, which would probably have to involve him getting a taste of his own medicine.
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