It was an interesting week in the NFL, which generated plenty of news for all the right and wrong reasons.
Much of the focus was on the courtship of Peyton Manning before he landed in Denver. It was one of those wonderful media-circus events that occurs from time to time and Manning got almost as much as air time on ESPN as Brett Favre did all those times he decided to retire or un-retire.
But the news event that will have the longest-lasting effect was the stiff penalties levied against the New Orleans Saints by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. The coach was suspended for an entire season, the former defensive coordinator was suspended maybe forever and the Saints also lost a couple of draft picks. They also had to stand in the corner and their television privileges were taken away for a week.
Those unprecedented penalties were the subject of much debate on ESPN and all other sports-talk shows, as well as front-page news in sports sections all around the nation. But, surprisingly, nobody is talking about the real reason for the harsh penalties slapped on the Saints. And it’s not about player safety or because Goodell was mad at Saints coach Sean Payton and others for lying to him and it has nothing to do with the integrity of the game.
It’s about what the NFL is always about: Money.
The NFL is in the process of dealing with hundreds of lawsuits from former players who claim the league didn’t do enough to protect them against the long-term effects of playing a violent sport like football. Most of the charges deal with head trauma because the NFL didn’t have much of a protocol when it came to dealing with concussions until recently.
Anyone who saw a recent interview with Jim McMahon, the former Eagles and Chicago Bears quarterback who was known for his hard-nosed approach to the game, saw what those effects can be. McMahon is suffering from short-term memory loss and he said it will get worse as he gets older. There’s no proof, of course, that football-induced trauma is the reason for McMahon’s problems, but it’s a compelling story and it does not make the NFL look good.
It’s also a story on which a lot of people want to cash in, including, of course, lawyers. There are already websites set up to give former players legal advice, including (and we’re not making these up) nflheadinjurylawsuit.com and footballinjuryclaims.com.
And that’s what all this posing by Goodell and the rest of the NFL is all about. If those claims are upheld in court the league could be liable for, well, nobody knows, but it will be a lot, maybe billions. So, the league is doing everything it can to show that it really, truly cares about its players and does everything it can to protect them. And that means rocking the Saints with the stiffest penalties ever handed out to an organization.
If you actually think the commissioner is motivated by concern for the players’ health, then consider this: If Goodell is so worried about head injuries and their effects – long and short term – then why was he pushing so hard for an 18-game schedule? He campaigned for it mightily just two summers ago when made a tour of training camps. When Goodell spoke to the media after watching the Eagles work out at Lehigh University, he said with a straight face that the league wanted 18 games because the fans have made it clear they don’t want four preseason games. The NFL’s answer to that problem was, well, just eliminate two preseason games and add two regular season games. What’s the difference?
Well, how about everything? Starters don’t play as much in the preseason and players don’t play as hard in the preseason and to compare the last two exhibitions (the starters don’t even play in the final one) with two regular season games is ridiculous.
Common sense says that two more games a season would mean many more injuries and the long-term effects would be even greater. But two more games would also generate millions of more dollars for the NFL and its media and marketing partners, something Goodell conveniently forgot to mention during his whistle-stop tour.
So, for Roger Goodell to claim that an 18-game schedule benefits the fans or the players is disingenuous at best and a bald-face lie at worst. He was hired by the owners, gets paid millions of dollars by the owners and can get fired by the owners, so don’t ever forget whose side he is on.
And ask yourself this question: Did the Saints deserve the harsh penalties they received? The answer is no, at least not if consider the slap on the wrist the New England Patriots received when they were caught cheating (secretly filming other team’s practices). As far as the integrity of the game goes, that’s much worse than coaches paying extra money to players for doing what they would be doing anyhow – trying to knock the stuffing out of an opposing player.
That macho-man stuff has been going on since the days when they played with a real pigskin on a real gridiron. Around here, we all know about the Buddy Ryan and the Bounty Bowl against the Cowboys and Ryan wasn’t disciplined at all for that much-more blatant “bounty’’ incident.
So, as the Saints have learned the hard way, the NFL isn’t trying to protect the players’ interests as much as it’s trying to protect the owners’ investments. As always in the NFL, the bottom line is the bottom line.
Contact Kevin Noonan at email@example.com.