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Goodell Shows Weakness By Waivering on Bounty Suspensions

It was an interesting weekend in Canton, Ohio.

Willie Roaf was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, touting the Saints throughout the process.

Saints players showed up for the induction ceremony wearing shirts emblazoned with Roaf's No. 77 on them in a class act of solidarity. Sean Payton showed up, flying with Tom Benson to Canton. At Benson's urging, Payton boldly visited his team and coaches.

I seriously doubt that Payton handed Joe Vitt a script of the first 15 plays to utilize against the Arizona Cardinals or told him to cut any players. No doubt Ray Anderson got a full report on it though it was clear for all to see. The Saints won a football game over the Cardinals. The story was finally back on the field.

Then again, maybe not.

On Sunday night, an ESPN report by Chris Mortensen stated that the league had made an offer to reduce Jonathan Vilma's year-long suspension to eight games, providing Vilma drops his civil lawsuit against Roger Goodell. The suit charges Goodell with defamation of Vilma's character.

However, NFL spokesman Greg Aiello declared Monday, "Today's report about a settlement offer by the league to Jonathan Vilma is completely inaccurate." The truth may lie somewhere in the middle.

Vilma has been steadfast in proclaiming his innocence and attempting to restore his damaged reputation. For his part, ESPN's Ed Werder stated Sunday night that Vilma has rejected any settlement, to this point. Good for him.

If Vilma strongly believes or knows that he is innocent of the charges against him, he should remain steadfast in rejecting any "deal."

U.S. District Court Judge Helen Ginger Berrigan is set to make a ruling within two weeks, possibly as early as later this week, on an injunction to halt Vilma's suspension. Berrigan publicly expressed sympathy for Vilma, expressing concerns about Goodell's actions in a hearing on July 26.

The denials have been vehement by Vilma and other players involved. They have been adamant in their profession of innocence.

Clearly, the NFL is concerned about the lawsuit and a possible court case. Why else would they offer the olive branch? Did Vilma's egregious offense suddenly become less egregious?

Vilma wants his name cleared.

There was a pay-for-performance program in New Orleans. That is clear. Discipline was merited.

What is not clear is that there was a bounty program, a program existing to pay players to intentionally take out or injure opposing players. Hard core evidence to prove an actual bounty has been lacking, at least in the public eye or through the public eye, based on what did not appear to happen on the field over the period of time in question.

Talk about opening Pandora's box!

NFL players do not trust Goodell. Ask Drew Brees.

If Vilma's sentence is reduced, Will Smith, Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove are sure to follow suit. What about Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis and Joe Vitt?

Amending their suspensions is far less likely without the power of the NFL Players Association behind them.

There was no precedent with the bold, dramatic discipline handed down by Goodell. If he is sure, if he has solid proof, stick to your guns. Right is right. If he was right in the first place, why is he wavering now? Does he have rabbit ears? Has the criticism finally gotten to him? Is about a fear of losing financially in losing the lawsuit?

That is unlikely. The NFL has deep, deep pockets. It would seem to more of a case of avoiding losing in court and the embarrassment it would case the league since Goodell made his dramatic decision to lower the boom on the Saints, delivering a crushing blow to the franchise.

In an interview with Ed Daniels of WGNO-TV and sportsNOLA.com on Saturday in Canton, Saints owner Tom Benson hinted at talking with Goodell about possibly reducing the penalty to Payton though he admitted that it is unlikely that Goodell would make any change.

Fear is a powerful force. It would appear that Goodell and the league fear the suit of Vilma and what a possible positive ruling for Vilma will bring. Is Goodell afraid of losing? Is he protecting sources? On the surface, that would certainly appear to be the case.

In the final analysis, all everyone wants is the truth. All everyone wants is justice. As a famous quote from a famous book once stated, "then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free."

Throughout the process, Goodell has steadfastly proclaimed his case, saying that if players wanted to plead their case, to present evidence contrary to his stark ruling, that he is all ears.

If Goodell loses in court or reduces his original sledgehammer sanctions, he displays weakness and, in a manner of speaking, admits that he was wrong to a degree. Either way, he is weakened.

Either way, some NFL owners could have some cause for pause about the man they have given autonomy to. Either way, it weakens the disciplinary measures the league takes against future offenders, setting a precedent for consistent, persistent challenges by those ruled against.

While it is common for NFL players who have been disciplined to appeal their punishment, there has never been a situation with such serious penalties and implications as this one. For Goodell to waver after months of taking the high road, he has lowered the expectations and dynamics of future rulings, weakening his rulings and office by wavering.

 

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