“If you can’t be a good example, then you’ll just have to be a horrible warning” — Catherine Aird
Now that the bomb has been dropped and the dust settled, you can’t help but think that this was not about the Saints so much as power; the implementation of one man’s will, and the complete and awesome power of that will. The Saints, while verifiably guilty, were ideological fodder, advanced under the aegis of player safety; however, the crime they were prosecuted for was flaunting their insubordinate behavior. This is a fine distinction, and one worth noting, especially in light of the perceived crime and the draconian punishment.
I typically shy away from hyperbole when it comes to sports. I especially dislike metaphors that try to equate anything that happens on a battlefield to a football field. Yet I can’t help thinking that the best equivalent example for instructional purposes is the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Truman’s ostensible reason for bombing the two smaller Japanese cities (not Tokyo, mind you) was to bring about a swift end to WWII; yet, it is hard to watch the utter devastation wreaked by the bombs and not come to the conclusion that while bringing a quick end to the war was a corollary, the point was to show that America, under no circumstances, was to be fucked with. That we had absolute power — a trump card or a reset button — that could remove you from the map and make you bend to our will.
Goodell showed similar heavy-handedness in dealing with the Saints, and especially head coach Sean Payton, who received a punishment without precedent, his entire 2012 season eradicated without pay. And the Saints were a convenient target for a systemic abuse that has been promulgated in the league for years, although never officially sanctioned. When you think about the tactical similarities of attacking a smaller market, i.e. a Hiroshima or a New Orleans, it makes perfect sense: the Saints have had enough recent success that they are no longer the underdog, so Goodell is absolved from picking on a beleaguered franchise; they are in a big enough market that people take notice, but not too big to cause significant financial impact in the league; they are intensely loved in their own city, but hated elsewhere — the feel good story is over folks. But more importantly, the improprieties of Bounty-gate, which were inexcusable, gave Goodell the opportunity to reestablish his absolute authority and repair his image which was weakened during the lockout.
The Saints, specifically the coaching staff, brought this on themselves — this cannot be overlooked. In no way do I want to dismiss this and appear like a complete homer (which I am), because it does a disservice to my entire argument. Had they just desisted when they were told to, they wouldn’t be in this predicament. This I cannot argue. However, singling out Payton for the brunt of the punishment is akin to singling out the drill operator in the BP disaster; the Saints are an organization, and any systemic abuses need to be shared equally by the entire organization. Benson gets plausible deniability and Loomis gets 30 days then parole, while Payton gets the death penalty? This seems like a backhanded way to protect the integrity of the organization (read NFL) while transferring the blame to the employees (coaches and players).
When the NFL was gaining incredible popularity, literally making its bones on broken bones and concussed heads, the violence was sanctioned as “part of the game.” Now that the money is astronomical, player health is a natural by-product, a return on an investment, and a protection for “franchise” players. While I remain cynical about the motives for this new-found concern for the players, overall, I applaud it. If the primary purpose of punishing Payton were player safety, I would gladly take our collective lumps in light of our wrongdoing. But I just don’t get the sense that it is. I don’t get the sense that the man who pushed for an 18 game season and who instituted Thursday night games cares less about health than branding and image. And ego.
In the end, it is the fans who suffer the fallout — the innocents — the people who ARE bigger than the league because they give the league its sanction. The fans in New Orleans are gutted. They have seen their general executed, their 2012 season eviscerated before their very eyes — the thought of a 2013 Super Bowl win at home in the Dome reduced to wishful thinking. All at the hands of one man: Roger Goodell. And the fans –we — are also pissed, because it didn’t have to go down this way. We are pissed at our team for letting it go down, but more pissed at Goodell for his holier-than-thou sanctions against us: it just doesn’t seem fair.
Fairness is the crux of this issue, the fulcrum; is it fair to make an example out of a team for a policy that was tacitly accepted but officially denied for years? Is justice best served by condensing the complete culpability to one obstreperous franchise while simultaneously sweeping years of abuse under the rug? If Greg Williams is the serial offender, instituting bounties at various franchises during his employ in the NFL, why is Sean Payton the poster boy?
In my mind, the answer is power, and impact: when you drop an A-bomb, everyone stops and takes notice.
Yet, is that the best course of action? If you are trying to change a culture, is punitive action the best deterrent? One look at the U.S.’s overcrowded and dysfunctional prison system would probably best provide the answer.
What is lost in all of this is the golden opportunity to affect positive change. By cleverly pulling a Ponticus Pilate, condemning Payton, while absolving the league and himself, Goodell missed an opportunity at real leadership. Instead of convening a council of owners and players to discuss the implementation of “anti-Bounty” measures throughout the league and discuss appropriate penalties, he unilaterally bombed one franchise back into the stone age: He unleashed his own version of shock and awe.
Saints fan deserved better than this. WHO DAT!