Jonathan Vilma continues his pursuit of justice, repairing his image and fighting to earn the right to earn a living at his profession in the courtroom.
Interim Coach Joe Vitt, along with current and former Saints players Jonathan Casillas, Sedrick Ellis, Randall Evans, Troy Evans, Roman Harper and Scott Shanle all appeared in local court to testify on Vilma's behalf.
Former Saints Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove have sounded off loud and with conviction.
Tom Benson, while remaining silent publicly, has expressed his disgust with the NFL to Vilma by phone, according to Vilma. Benson has also sent a message with his installation of a huge photo of Sean Payton at the team's indoor practice facility with the glare of Payton overseeing the practice field with the statement, "Do Your Job."
Mickey Loomis bides his time but seethes privately at an upcoming suspension and at the way the league has damaged the franchise he oversees. Loomis chose Joe Vitt to replace Payton, the same Vitt that the league has also suspended to start the upcoming season. Many see that as a slap at the league as well.
Vitt consistently voices the innocence of the coaching staff and players in the Bounty scandal, contrary to what the league claims.
While the Saints coaches and players work hard at doing their jobs to the satisfaction of Benson, Payton, Vitt, Loomis and company, how has Roger Goodell been doing his job?
Not very well, if you are affiliated with or follow the New Orleans Saints.
While all of the above carries some weight and cannot be dismissed, the winds blowing forcefully at the NFL have reached tropical storm force, if not stronger, thanks to a man named Brees.
Benson, Loomis, Payton, Vitt and the current and former players (including Will Smith) are respected by many around the NFL. None are respected more than Drew Brees.
When one of the league's elite players and elite persons ventures a strong opinion, in the words of the old Merrill Lynch commercial, people listen.
Now in tow with his long-term deal with the Saints, Brees ended his silence on the Bounty matter. All of the criticism emanating from the Saints, including from Brees, has a bulls-eye targeted. His name is Roger Goodell.
Brees sounded off to Sports Illustrated's Peter King. The words were harsh, carrying hurricane force.
"Nobody trusts (Goodell). Nobody trusts him," Brees said. "I'm not talking about a DUI or using a gun in a strip club, which are pretty clear violations. I think there are too many times where the league has come to its decision in a case before calling a guy in, and the interview is just a facade. I think now if a guy has to come in and talk to Roger, he'll be very hesitant because he'll think the conclusion has already been reached."
The words are forceful. They are damning. They were emphatic.
"Nobody" leaves no room for discussion or inclusion. That is all, without exception. That is an incredibly strong choice of words. Brees makes it clear that Goodell has his mind made up on matters, turning a deaf ear to those who attempt to defend themselves and make their case.
Clearly, Goodell rules with an iron fist. His record is clear and consistent. He is doing the job he was hired to do. Players signed off on his authority so they have themselves to blame.
Speaking of blame, no one, myself included, is exonerating the New Orleans Saints from blame and some level of guilt in what has transpired over the past three years. I have maintained all along that the arrogance of the organization hurt its cause substantially and that they deserved to be disciplined with some level of punishment. Gregg Williams was employed by the Saints.
I have also steadfastly maintained that Goodell acted too harshly in his judgment and sanctions against the Saints. Payton has been silenced, banished, told how he can live, what he can do and who he can speak to. Goodell must really have the goods on Payton or must really dislike him intensely. Perhaps both are true, at least partially. Vitt, Loomis, Smith, Vilma, Hargrove and Fujita will miss time.
SpyGate resulted in no suspensions to the New England Patriots despite an obvious attempt to not only circumvent rules but to gain a competitive advantage by what many would define as cheating, hardly building trust.
The words of Brees matter. He is universally respected by his teammates, other NFL players, coaches, administrators, fans, media and even Goodell. He is considered trustworthy.
I am sure that Goodell is stung by the strong comments of Brees, a prominent member of the NFL Players Association Executive Committee. Perhaps he should listen. If you believe Brees and many others, Goodell certainly has not been listening to players for the past few years.
The Saints have a damaged image. They are in repair mode. Goodell has been damaged. That is the result of powerful words from a powerful player with a powerful, positive image. Whether Goodell is dead right or nearly wrong in what he has wrought, the playing field has changed on the Bounty issue.
The Saints keep blowing smoke in trying to create a fire. They will keep rubbing the sticks together while adopting the "rebel with a cause" attitude on the field in an attempt to defy odds, overcome exceptional adversity and become the first team to play at home in a Super Bowl. It could happen, despite Goodell and league actions to curtail the possibility.
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