When the New Orleans Saints Head Coach, Sean Payton, appealed his yearlong suspension from the game, his legal team pointed out that when Bill Belichick was caught in the “Spygate” scandal, the Patriots controversial coach’s punishment did not include a suspension. The Saints argued that given the fact that the NFL found that Belichick was involved an alleged cheating scandal (which goes to the integrity of the game) and he did not lose a game on the sidelines. Why then should Sean Payton lose a whole year? More importantly, why shouldn’t NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reflect on all that Payton has accomplished in New Orleans and offer the Super Bowl winning coach some leniency after Payton had shown some remorse and taken responsibility for his actions.
As set forth, herein, Commissioner Goodell is in no mood for leniency. The NFL, despite the inherent violence of its game, has grown sensitive of the need to protect itself from lawsuits. The league (and its insurers) is currently defending workers compensation suits, across the nation, from players who claim to have suffered head trauma and other injuries. The NFL has shown it has no desire to be targeted by players who sustained a “bounty injury” for personal injury lawsuits.
Commissioner Goodell has established three pillars to protect the NFL and its vendors (like helmet makers) from personal injury actions from players. First, the Commissioner has articulated a no tolerance policy against illegal hits that can result in head trauma. The NFL has attempted to draw a line between a good legal tackle as opposed to a hit designed to induce a head injury. However, the Saints’ bounty program made a mockery of the commissioner’s rules against illegal hits.
The second tenant involves early detection of a head injury so that the trauma of a concussion can be immediate reduced and controlled. This concept makes tremendous sense; if a head injury can be contained then a lawsuit will be less likely. Unless, of course, you are the Cleveland Browns and put your quarterback, Colt McCoy, right back on the field after a massive (and illegal) helmet to helmet hit by the Steeler’s James Harrison. The Browns’ decision to put McCoy back on the field was deemed as a “total system failure” by the NFL Players Association.
The final pillar involves the NFL’s theory that the league (and the league alone) is responsible for policing the game. The NFL believes that if it strictly enforces its rules and keeps the game violent but “clean”, this factor should protect it from lawsuits. I think of it as a self-created cloak of immunity. Its really not a bad a approach, it the league and its teams actually sticks to it the program.
In light of all of this, you can imagine the look on Commissioner Goodell’s face when he heard the taped comments of former Saints Defense Coordinator Gregg Williams (who is indefinitely suspended) urging his players to “kill the head and the body will follow.” Williams also was caught imploring his players to see how many times they could hit 49ers running back, Frank Gore, in the head.
So now its time to re-ask the question, why Goodell refused to give Sean Payton and the Saints any leniency for the bounty scandal? The answer is that the good commissioner is beyond furious (you can insert a stronger word of your choice here). Over the last few months, he has watched all the pillars of his lawsuit protection program be crushed by coaches and teams that lied to him or ignored league’s protocols. Goodell knows that this type of improper conduct is the root of lawsuits. Goodell’s only remaining option to protect his anti-litigation plan is to punish heavily, show no leniency and make examples of those who defy him.