Friday, October 19, 2012

Commissioner Goodell Recuses Himself from Saints Bounty Scandal

Earlier today NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that he is recusing  himself from the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. The scandal began back in March when the Commissioner announced that there was evidence that Saints players had been offered monetary compensation to injure certain players during the course of a game. The league launched an investigation that resulted in the suspensions of Saints head coach Sean Payton for an entire season, and the indefinite suspension of then Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Also suspended were Saints linebacker Johnathan Vilma (for an entire season) and  defensive end Will Smith (7 Games), along with former Saints linebacker, now with the Cleveland Browns, Scott Fujita (originally a 3-game suspension, but has been reduced to one), and free agent defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (8 games reduced to three if he is picked up by any team).
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
U.S. District Court Judge Ginger Berrigan overturned these suspensions later on and told Commissioner Goodell that his penalties were too severe and that he needed to review the case in more detail. After doing so, Commissioner Goodell reaffirmed the suspensions about two weeks ago. Since then, Vilma and Smith have each petitioned the Commissioner to recuse himself from the case, feeling that his rulings are too emotionally biased. Goodell has been fuming over this case since the story broke earlier this year. It is apparent that he is not happy with these accusations. However, Vilma and Smith at least continue to maintain their innocence in the matter, stating that they never have participated in any pay-to-injure schemes.
It seems that the only evidence the league can produce is a videotape of the Saints' defense in the huddle on the sidelines with coordinator Gregg Williams after Michael Vick was knocked out of a game in 2010 in which Will Smith appears to say something like "You owe me for that. Gimme my money." Although the audio evidence is very unclear and it is not certain exactly what was said, and there is no evidence that the video is authentic.
Former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue
Given all the controversy surrounding the ruling, Commissioner Goodell may have done the right thing. He has appointed former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, now retired,  to continue the investigation .He will hear from all four players involved on October 30th. Tagliabue will then determine if the suspensions are warranted or if they are too strong or even necessary. Until that point, all players involved will continue to play, although Hargrove is still unsigned, Fujita's play is limited, and Vilma has been on the Saint's physically unable to perform list up until this week.
I personally feel that there is not sufficient evidence to uphold the suspensions, however if these suspensions are completely overturned, does that not meant that the league is admitting that the bountygate scandal does not have enough evidence to uphold any suspensions, including those of Payton, Williams, defensive assistant Joe Vitt and others involved in the Saints' front office? If so, did this bounty scandal actually occur? Tagliabue's decision could spell doom for Goodell and the league, or it could make him look like the strong leader that he intends to portray. In either case, this scandal has taken a conservative turn by bringing in the former Commish.

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