By Steve Silverman-
(CBS) This Roger Goodell means business.
When the NFL commissioner hands down a one-year suspension to Saints head coach Sean Payton, an undetermined suspension of at least that length to Gregg Williams and additional suspensions to assistant coach Joe Vitt and general manager Mickey Loomis, he is not fooling around.
Oh, there’s also a little matter of a $500,000 fine that owner Tom Benson will have to pay.
Goodell had given off the appearance of being the hanging commissioner before news of the Saints’ Bountygate scheme came to light last month. However, he made his bones handing out fines and suspensions to players.
Some of the more notable punishments were to Albert Haynesworth, James Harrison, Dunta Robinson, Brandon Merriweather and Ndamukong Suh. Haynesworth was suspended five games for stomping Cowboys offensive lineman Andre Gurode in the face. Robinson, Merriweather and Harrison all were fined in 2010 for concussion-inducing head-to-head hits. Suh was suspended two games for stomping the arm of Green Bay’s Evan Dietrich-Smith last year.
But it’s one thing to go after players and hit them with fines and pull them from the lineups. The players are the pawns on the chess board. They have very little power in the process, because it was negotiated away in the collective bargaining process.
It’s quite another to go after the coaches, management and ownership. It shows that Goodell means what he says and he’s going after everyone responsible. It’s risky to go after the guy that pays your salary, but that’s just what he has done on this occasion.
Williams coached his players to damage their opponents and he had apparently been doing it for a long time. Payton knew all about it and silently went along with it. So did Loomis.
It’s a difficult line for the NFL to walk because the game’s nature is so violent. Anyone who ever saw Ronnie Lott launch himself into a receiver or watched Lawrence Taylor sack a quarterback can’t pretend the game is anything but vicious.
Still, there is something quite offensive about doing it the way the Saints did by offering cash bounties to take opponents out of the game.
These fines and suspensions are most warranted and will resonate throughout the league. Teams will need to certify to the commissioner that they do not have bounties in place.
The certification process is Goodell’s way of saying that he knows this is not just a problem associated with the Saints. Indeed, Williams had apparently been using the bounty system during his coaching stints with the Buffalo Bills and the Washington Redskins.
But as nasty as Williams’ coaching technique was, he is not the guy who invented the bounty system. Many of the sports old-timers who played during the 1950s and 1960s knew they would find a little something extra in their pay envelopes if they made a big hit during a game. If that hit knocked a star player out of the lineup, that pay bonus might be even bigger.
But times are much different now and the old wink-and-nod system of justice no longer works. Too many players are suffering long-term health problems that have been documented. A league that claims it is concerned with the long-term impact of head injuries cannot allow thuggery to go on unchecked.
Goodell has flexed his muscle and both a powerful and thoughtful manner. It won’t take away all the game’s problems but it is a step in the right direction.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.