"Why I’m Shock-Raged by the New Orleans Saints Suspensions"

I am so angered by the insane, over-the-top suspensions of Saints football coach Sean Payton, General Manager Mickey Loomis, and pretty much everyone in New Orleans except for the cast of Treme, that I had to create a new word. I'm shock-raged. The entire 2012 season for a team that could rightly be called a Super Bowl favorite has been sliced to ribbons by the SportsWorld's favorite judge, jury, and executioner, NFL Commissioner. Roger Goodell. By taking out the entire Saints brain trust, like he's Michael Corleone at the end of the Godfather, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is sending one hell of a loud message. But cacophony is not the same as clarity. Most agree the Saints should have met with some punishment for having a “bounty system” against opposing players, but suspending the head coach for an entire season? Suspending the General Manager for eight games? Suspending former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams indefinitely? Why?

Ask Roger Goodell, and he will say that the suspensions were so harsh because the league needed to protect players and take a stand against the culture of violence that bounties imply. But this fails the most basic of smell tests. If Goodell cared about player safety, he wouldn't be pushing for an 18 game season. He wouldn't have spent last off-season fighting the NFL Players Association on expanding health benefits or limiting "voluntary" off-season workouts. He wouldn't be promoting Thursday-night games, which will accelerate injuries by giving players a shorter week to heal.

Goodell also said that the suspensions were so harsh because the Saints executives and coaches "misled" and "misrepresented" what was going on when called to his carpet. First of all, my own sources said that Payton and company arrived in Goodell's lair with their hats in hand ready to name names like Elia Kazan on sodium pentothal. But even if they did "mislead" and "misrepresent" on bounties, think about the ways that Goodell has "misled" and misrepresented" the public about the true effects of violence in his sport. This is a league with a 100% injury rate, a concussion epidemic, and a history of sending concussed players into games. It's why they're being sued by a large collection of former star players, including Jim McMahon, Mark Duper, and Hall-of-Famers Carl Eller, John Hannah, and Chuck Bednarik.

I am not saying that the Saints shouldn't have been punished. There should be zero tolerance for any kind of a locker room culture that abides a bounty system, but every NFL defense aims to "take out" the opposing team's star player. They'll say, and the Saints players have said, that the goal is always to do it “within the rules of the game”. I don’t doubt this. The problem is that the overwhelming number of crippling injuries all take place within the “rules of the game.” Violence is football and football is violence. That’s not a critique or value judgment. Just a fact.

The real reason Roger Goodell has smashed the Saints season is, as Jason Reid of the Washington Post put it, "brand protection at the highest level". Goodell doesn't work for the players. He works for the owners. No player on earth should believe he has their interests at heart. It's just not his job. His job is selling the idea that the NFL, because of the padding, because of his wise rule changes, because of his system of deterrence, is violence without consequence. It's just not true. He wants to send a message to all the skittish parents reading about concussions, to all the people complaining about a possible 18 game season, and to the dozens of former players suing the league, that the league's violence can be controlled and regulated under his watchful eye. What an absolute sham. The sport is built on violence. If that's too much for people to handle then they can take their money elsewhere. If that makes a promising young player quit for other pursuits, so be it. But at least they’d be making an informed decision and not judging the game on fraudulent grounds.

If there's a silver lining in all of this, hopefully we can finally dispense with the fiction that the NFL has a special place in its heart for the city of New Orleans. We can stop saying that after Katrina, the NFL is the best friend the city has. Instead, expect an ailing Saints team to cost the still rebuilding city millions. This league is not your friend, Saints fans. I hope the season-ticket holders organize themselves like the former players and take the NFL to court. Roger Goodell thinks he lives above the law. But he shouldn't be allowed to do this to the Saints, their fans, and the city of New Orleans, without legal consequence. Maybe Goodell will then be shock-raged for a change.

14 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Goodell and his unequal application of punishment

Bellichek didnt get suspended.

confused

I don't understand the outrage over the suspensions. The hypocrisy is there, definitely. But how can Zirin talk about "zero tolerance" for a locker room bounty culture and then criticize a harsh punishment for the men in charge of a locker room with a bounty culture?

It's like saying, how dare we punish companies that break labor laws. The whole capitalist system creates inequality and abuses within the "rules of the game." Labor laws just dupe people into thinking an unjust system is just.

Expose the hypocrisy. Commend the suspensions.

My Solution

Plastic helmets and shoulder pads are routinely used as weapons, so ban them. Go back to leather helmets and no pads.

Most importantly, eliminate the unlimited substitution rule. Reinstitute the rule in effect before WWII that if a player is removed for a substitute, he had to remain out until the following quarter---single-platoon football, where everyone plays offense AND defense.

Thus, if a DB knocks a receiver out of the game, he can contemplate what will happen to him when HE turns around and plays split end!

when the saints go marching out....

they knew what they were doing was wrong, kept doing and even lied about. they got everything they deserved, if not got off easy.

It's Only a Game

I just heard former Bear/Saint Alex Brown state that he only wants to hurt a player but not injure him. And despite this Alice-in-Wonderland logic, I kind of understand him. I've heard knowledgeable ex-players say that what the Saints did was not that extraordinary. I also don't see that much of a difference if team management initiates the bounty or the players. Obviously Goodell does.

What I find interesting is how the decision by the Commish will affect the game for the ordinary fan. Will the typical fan be able to see a difference in how the game is played? Changes have been made in other sports. Take the NBA. In the past travelling turnovers were called much more than they are called now.

DZ makes the pronouncement that football is violence but that's only a hafl truth. Fans also watch football for the skill of the players. Peyton Manning is watched more for his skill than his violence. Concerning DZ's comments about Goodell branding the NFL, I agree. But I do think there's a line(however fine) between playing to injure and playing the game.

somebody shave me

cmon

Better than nothing

While Goodell's decision was nothing more than, as you pointed out, brand management, it's a step in the right direction. Sometimes the punishment for some has to be so great as to deter others from doing it. How many other head coaches are going to allow this when they know they'll face a year long suspension, or worse?

Quite A Contrast With The Punishment Of Pats...

...who were busted actually violating the rules. Now my understanding is that the Saints were not encouraging coaches and players to violate the rules. Many a former player has come out after retirement and stated that they wanted to get rid of this or that tough to defend player. Deacon Jones has said this of Frank Tarkington. Big defensive players like Jones hated having to chase that guy all over the field during the game.

Favre summed it up best when he said it was just football being played and he doesn't hold a grudge against the Saints for wanting to knock him out of the game. They didn't, but that didn't stop the Saints from getting plenty of valuable assistance from the mistake prone Favre the day of the NFC Championship Game.

How would the Pats and other teams in large broadcast markets be treated if they were accused of the same thing?

Who Paid?

Who paid the bounties? Was that person exposed or punished? Was the bounty pay included in pay checks, or cash payola? Who got paid, and how much? Where's the IRS, the FBI?

nola is fine

super bowl is in new orleans this year, the city should be just fine

"assistance...from...Favre"

Rick:

Don't forget the assistance from the referees.

refs

How did the refs get off with nothing? Watch the Saints/Vikings game and the refs are letting the Saints get away with dirty hits unpunished, late hits, hits to the heads, and hits to the knees. No flags. It should be the refs job to protect the players from dirty hits during a game, or at least punish them as the rules say.

refs

what kills me is the refs are not full time employees their lack of knowledge of the rules and time delays are absolutely rediculous
also there is no protection for defensive players

offensive players are allowed to roll over defensive players on almost every play with no penalties ever called
the refs should be held accountable and should be full time employees what's the problem not enough money in the nfl
roger goodell speaks out of both sides of his mouth .fair is fair and he is not

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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