First, the news:
NEW ORLEANS — Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue overturned the suspensions of four current and former New Orleans Saints players in the league’s bounty investigation of the club.
Tagliabue, however, found that three of the players engaged in conduct detrimental to the league. He said they participated in a performance pool that rewarded key plays — including hard tackles — that could merit fines. And Tagliabue stressed that the team’s coaches were very much involved.
“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects,” said a portion of the ruling released by the NFL. “My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”
Basically, Paul Tagliabue ruled that the Saints players weren’t major cogs in the bountygate scandal and the real villains were higher up in the Saints organization – namely the coach, defensive coordinator and general manager.
My initial reaction is to be elated that Johnathan Vilma and company have, for the most part, been exonerated from Roger Goodell’s stupid witch hunt to save himself from a few lawsuits. However, what did Tagliabue’s ruling really do? The Saints are still 5-8. They’re still out of the playoffs. They’ve essentially had a wasted season and now we know that it was mostly unjust. While Tagliabue’s ruling for the players is yet another embarrassment for Goodell (when combined with the referee scandal, this isn’t really his year), the whole situation doesn’t really seem like a victory for this Saints fan. Regardless of what rulings come down, I already feel punished.
As someone who watched every Saints snap this year, it was pretty obvious that the Bountygate rulings had a grave impact on the team from the opening kickoff. From playcalling, chemistry and preparedness, this hasn’t been the Saints team of years past. And while the players have been exonerated, Goodell and his minions have decided to shift the full brunt of the blame to the guys that don’t have unions and who won’t fight the rulings like the players did. Instead of admitting fault, they were able to find a scapegoat unwilling to and in many ways incapable of fighting back.
Yes, Tagliabue ruled in favor of the Saints players, but it doesn’t soften the blow of a season ruined by an unjust ruling and the worst commissioner in sports.
PS. I for one can’t wait for Goodell to take the stage after the Super Bowl and get booed completely out of the Big Easy.