(4:10 p.m: Updated and rewritten)
The NFL Players Association needs to re-brand itself, perhaps as the Union of People We Feel Like Representing. Because how is it that a players’ union, whose stated mission includes looking out for the well-being of all its membership …
• Ignores all evidence uncovered in a two-year NFL investigation into a bounty program.
• Ignores the public admission of a former assistant coach, Gregg Williams, who orchestrated and partially funded the program.
• Ignores an audio recording in which Williams is heard instructing his New Orleans defensive players to deliver repeated head blows to the opposing quarterback and running back and then references a specific wide receiver, saying: “He becomes human when we [bleepin’] take out that outside ACL.”
Where’s their union?
The NFL did the right thing again Wednesday. Following the suspensions of coach Sean Payton and other team officials for “Bounty Gate,” commissioner Roger Goodell suspended linebacker Jonathan Vilma for the entire 2012 season and three other players: defensive end Will Smith (four games), linebacker Scott Fujita (now with Cleveland, three games) and defensive end Anthony Hargrove (now with Green Bay, eight games).
It could’ve been worse. The league initially stated “22 to 27″ players were involved in the bounty program. But Goodell, in his own little bounty program, focused on the Saints leaders who contributed money, demonstrated the greatest intent to participate “and/or obstructed the 2010 investigation.”
The union’s immediate response was indignation. It will appeal. I understand a union has members’ backs. But is Drew Brees’ back more important than everybody else’s? How about the guys targeted to be beheaded? Or is the NFLPA just somehow trying to save face after giving so much back in collective bargaining talks?
The NFLPA released a statement saying it has “not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players’ involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure program.”
In legal circles, this is called The Bart Simpson Defense: “I didn’t do it. Nobody saw me do it. You can’t prove anything.”
Former Saint Darren Sharper said he read the NFL security report and saw no “proof” that bounty payments made. I love it when people go all CSI on us.
Fear not, I’m sure video of Williams and Vilma handing out $100 bills will surface because don’t you just know the Saints would want it for bookkeeping purposes?
Exactly what would the players union and its muddled-brained leader, DeMaurice Smith, say to Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who was among those targeted for $10,000 bounties by the Saints defense? Rodgers said recently, “I think the line is drawn when people knowingly take money for hits that cause injuries to another player.”
The Saints have now lost their head coach (Payton) for the entire season, their interim head coach (Joe Vitt) for six games, their general manager (Mickey Loomis) for eight games, two of their best defensive players (Vilma and Smith) and a second-round draft pick. Quarterback Drew Brees also remains unsigned and unhappy about being franchise tendered, so there’s a degree of uncertainty about his future.
The Saints will play up the Us-Against-The-World theme. But how can you not look at this and logically conclude that the Falcons have the inside track for the NFC South title?
We’ve addressed this before: Anybody who trivializes the bounty program with comments like, “Everybody does it” (not true) or the NFL loves violence (true, but they don’t love concussions and torn ligaments) is missing the point. There’s a difference between rewarding an athlete for an unscripted play and a premeditated assault.
Payments for “cart-offs” aren’t acceptable. We’re taking about people’s livelihoods. And lives.
There aren’t a lot of people around the NFL who feel sorry for the Saints. Along with the team’s success, New Orleans has been viewed as one the more arrogant organizations for a few years. Nobody wears that crown better than Vilma. He recent demonstrated that by changing the avatar on his Twitter account (@JonVilma51) to the Sports Illustrated cover with his picture and the headline: “Bounty Culture.”
I’m sure that went over well in Goodell’s office.
Clearly, there’s a level of acceptance that hasn’t taken place yet with Vilma or the NFLPA. It’s easy to understand a player who can’t get out of the way of his own ego. But a union that is supposed to be looking out for all doesn’t have that excuse.
By Jeff Schultz