Last Modified: Tuesday, June 19, 2012 11:02 PM
Hopefully, that Saints’ bounty fund had a separate pot set aside to handle all the attorneys’ fees.
As usual, that’s apparently the only pockets that will be enriched by the posturing and appealing and most of the denying and rebutting that’s been going on in New York at NFL headquarters the last few days.
In other words, much ado about nothing — at least nothing that’s likely to change anything.
But you can’t blame the players for trying — mostly with appeals; in linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s case, with an added defamation lawsuit against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.
They’re being portrayed as pseudo assassins. They see it as nothing more than overgrown men being overgrown boys.
Now, they are also shouting from the figurative courtroom steps that Goodell has too much power and that they have all been railroaded into nothing more than a classic kangaroo court.
They may be right, although professional sports learned long ago that having strong and powerful commissioners usually works out better in the long run.
Maybe that will change some day. Maybe these seemingly over-the-top penalties handed down by Commissioner/Hanging Judge Goodell will give the NFL pause to reexamine its in-house judicial system.
But the notion of Goodell as judge, jury, appellate court and ultimate executioner is apparently exactly what the NFL wanted — and exactly what the NFL players union agreed to in those last round of negotiations.
For now, they have to live with the consequences.
I’m sure the NFL did not enjoy running four of its players through the mud and hanging them out to dry.
Suspended Saints players Vilma (a year) and Will Smith (four games), and former Saints Anthony Hargrave (eight games) and Scott Fujita (three games) pretty well forced them into it when they demanded to hear the evidence used to determine their sentences.
That’s not unreasonable.
And it’s not unreasonable, at the this point, for them to wonder where the smoking gun is.
The NFL seems to have a pretty strong case that some kind of bounty payment system was in place under former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
What it doesn’t have — and isn’t likely to have hidden in reserve for a rainy day — is proof-positive that any specific opposing player was injured because a Saint was intentionally trying to sideline him with an illegal hit in order collect his cash prize.
The best “cart-off” video example so far is New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs — felled by a perfectly legal hit by Roman Harper, who isn’t even among the suspended.
But that’s not really the question.
On the surface, from what the NFL presented, certainly one would guess that the NFL’s evidence would be way too circumstantial to hold up in any real court of law.
But this isn’t a court of law.
This is more like getting sent to the principal, albeit with a lot more lawyers involved.
It doesn’t really matter if, in actual practice, the bounty system was nothing more than another NFL macho male-bonding experience to beef up team camaraderie.
It doesn’t really matter if, in reality, it had no more effect on actually injuring an opposing player than, say, one of those unexpected team male-bonding trips to the water park in lieu of a hot August practice session.
You’d suspect that to be the case, by the way.
The NFL is no place for the weak of heart. But if the rest of the league really thought the Saints were on a planned mission to purposely maim and injure opponents, you can bet you’d hear a lot more genuine outrage throughout the league about it.
Those knees and arms are their livelihoods, their tickets to big bucks. You don’t mess with them.
Instead, the other players in the league have mostly shrugged. Part of the game. Would the players union be doing everything it can to get the suspended players reinstated if it thought those players were in an organized campaign to disable the union’s other clients?
No, what happened in practice probably isn’t much different in theory than the atmosphere on a lot of other teams.
But again, at the risk of belaboring a point, the NFL wasn’t on to any other teams’ bounty systems, didn’t give any of them fair warning to knock it off so they could get off with a slap on the wrist.
The Saints mostly are paying the price for arrogantly disregarding those warnings.
There’s certainly no evidence, to date, that Vilma did any more than anyone else to “carry out” a hit on an opponent. Vilma’s suspension is apparently because, as a team leader and captain, he was such an enthusiastic “organizer” of the system.
The crime was having the thing, not in what missions it may have carried out.
And there’s no doubt the Saints’ ignored the warnings.
With that in mind, what do you expect Goodell to say? OK, but if it happens again I’m going to get really, really mad and you’re really, really going to pay for it big time. And this time I mean it. Really, I do …
Scooter Hobbs covers LSU athletics. Email him at email@example.com