PALM BEACH, March 29, 2012 – At the 2012 NFL Owners Meetings, one man everybody wanted to hear from was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He only spoke for one minute before opening it up for questions. As expected, the New Orleans Saints were the main topic of discussion. The bounty scandal that rocked the league was absolutely a major focus of the meetings and discussions.
Commissioner Goodell made it clear that the Saints would not try to circumvent the suspension. As of April 1st, Sean Payton is suspended from the Saints for an entire football year, which would end after the Super Bowl.
He will not be allowed to show up at the training facility. He will “not be coaching from home.”
The question I asked him was whether Owner Tom Benson was in the clear. Mr. Benson was not suspended from his own franchise. Commissioner Goodell politely but sternly questioned my choice of words.
He did not think “in the clear” was accurate because Mr. Benson has been heavily fined, lost a couple of draft picks, has had his general manager, head coach, and assistant coach suspended, and will lose several players.
Mr. Goodell correctly pointed out that this was a very severe penalty.
When asked about the 22 to 27 players on the Saints roster who could be suspended, Mr. Goodell stated that he was not sure of the exact number, but that the league could find out and disclose this.
Mr. Payton has every right to appeal his suspension by April 2nd. If he appeals, he can stay on as the coach while the appeal is pending. However, the review of the appeal would be expedited, delaying the suspension perhaps only a week unless it is overturned.
Mr. Goodell will make the sole decision. The chance that an appeal can be dragged out past the 2012 NFL Draft from April 26th through the 28th is zero.
Assuming Mr. Payton does not appeal, he is the coach until April 1st. In that interim he absolutely has the right to choose his successor if Owner Benson allows this. When speculation turned to Payton trying to bring in his former mentor Bill Parcells to coach the team for the year, Commissioner Goodell refused to discuss hypotheticals.
One important issue on the hiring of an interim coach dealt with the “Rooney Rule.” The Rooney Rule requires that every head coaching vacancy must involve at least one in-person interview with a minority candidate. While this is an interim and highly unusual situation and not an actual vacancy, Commissioner Goodell made no distinction.
The Rooney Rule would apply in this situation.
As for any television opportunities Mr. Payton may or may not accept during his suspension period, that is “up to him.”
Commissioner Goodell pointed out that while the bounty program itself was serious, two years of denials were also a major problem. He reiterated that the NFL has a zero tolerance policy for this type of behavior, which is is simply not acceptable. The league office did discuss the possibility that the Saints had bounties in place during the recent playoff games against the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers.
An offshoot of the bounty scandal itself occurred when former player and current NFL Network analyst Warren Sapp took to Twitter and publicly accused current Carolina Panthers (and former Saints) tight end Jeremy Shockey of being the whistleblower. Shockey has angrily denied this.
Commissioner Goodell stated that Mr. Sapp is inaccurate, and that nobody in the league disclosed how many sources came forward, or whether those sources were even players. Mr. Goodell made it clear the identity of those sources would not be disclosed.
Mr. Goodell pointed out that Mr. Sapp is an employee of NFL Network, and therefore it is up to them to decide how or if to discipline him. NFL Network did explain to Mr. Sapp that he was an analyst and not a reporter. Since he is not a journalist, he should not engage in speculation without having the facts in front of him.
NFL Network announced he would not be fired. More than one reporter at the Goodell press conference publicly pointed out that since the NFL Network is owned by the league itself, Mr. Goodell could weigh in. Mr. Goodell demurred, saying that if it reached his desk he would look at it. He reiterated that this was a decision for the network, and that he had plenty on his plate in terms of purely league matters.
Since there is a chance that plenty of Saints players could be suspended, it was asked whether or not those suspensions could be “staggered” throughout the season so as not to cripple the team. Mr. Goodell said he would seek input from various parties, and is always concerned about teams being competitive. He would not comment yet as to how any suspensions would be applied since at this moment any player suspensions are still hypothetical.
One player who could be in big trouble is Jonathan Vilma, who is reported to have offered $10,000 to any Saints defender who would “take out” (now retired) Vikings quarterback Brett Favre. Favre was repeatedly hit after the whistle in that game, which the Saints won in overtime en route to their Super Bowl victory. A pair of Vikings players want a lifetime ban for Vilma.
Goodell wants to hear from players, and said that he has already “heard from dozens.” When asked about how the Ownership Committee felt about the entire scandal, Mr. Goodell pointed out that the league does not have an Ownership Committee.
Some reporters inquired as to the salary cap penalties issued against the Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins. When asked about a rumor that all of the other 30 owners were against the Cowboys and Redskins on this issue, Commissioner Goodell said that this was “not true.” Soon afterward a vote would be taken, and the vote in favor of the sanctions was 30-2.
One reporter asked about cross-ownership rules if current St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke succeeds in his bid to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers. Commissioner Goodell stated that Dodgers Stadium is “extraordinary,” and would work with Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig on cross-ownership issues if it came down to that.
The issue became moot when it was announced a couple of days later that a separate group involving former basketball player Magic Johnson purchased the Dodgers for two billion dollars.
One reporter wanted to know if the New England Patriots rehiring of Josh McDaniels during the playoffs gave them an unfair competitive advantage. Commissioner Goodell did express concern about such moves and stated that the league would vote on whether or not to outlaw such moves after a meeting with the Competition Committee.
While much of the press conference focused on recent problems, one major positive came out of the meetings and Mr. Goodell’s press conference. The league several weeks ago decided to add a fan panel to its annual meeting. At the press conference, four of the 19 fans were introduced. The two women and two men were an accurate reflection of the entire panel. The fan panel made it clear that the one thing they wanted above everything else was that the integrity of the game be protected. They were pleased with the steps the league has taken to improve in this area. The panel was moderated by known political pollster Frank Luntz. Mr. Goodell called the fan panel a “terrific experience.”
After the press conference, I had a chance to briefly speak with Commissioner Goodell.
While I was there to report on his press conference, I was also there as a lifelong die-hard fan of the National Football League. Like the fan panel, it was vital to me personally as a fan that the game remain honest and fair.
Commissioner Goodell told me in no uncertain terms that on his watch, he was absolutely going to work to ensure that the NFL product on the field stays honest. He talks tough, and his even tougher actions show why his brief tenure as Commissioner has been very successful.
This allows, even in the wake of a terrible bounty scandal, for the league to remain successful and be stronger in the long run.
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