So, if Roger Goodell wanted to “change the culture” of pro football, he went a long way toward accomplishing that with his throwing down the thunder on the bounty-hunting New Orleans Saints this week.
Good for him. Good for the NFL.
His strong punishments put upon former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis will resonate through the NFL in a big way, straight to and through the thick skulls of remaining Neanderthals yet wandering the league, the Cro-Magnons who still believe that football should be barbaric, and that manhood is measured by the resultant count of broken bones and blown knees.
Paying players bonuses for knocking opponents out of games has no place, never had a place, even in a game built around violence.
Everybody knows those punishments — Williams was suspended indefinitely, Payton suspended for a year and Loomis suspended for part of a season — have almost no chance of being eased or reversed, on account of the fact that any appeal must make its way back through Goodell himself. Those suspensions might cost Williams his career, will cost Payton $7 million and Loomis half-a-mill in salary, and will lighten the stash of the Saints another $500,000, as well as docking them two second-round draft picks in the next two drafts.
That’s not overly severe, nowhere near as severe as a player’s career ended by a bounty-seeking cheap shot. It’s proper. And just as significantly, it’s useful.
Whether there’s a large dose of public relations injected into Goodell’s penalties doesn’t matter. The commissioner has made it a personal centerpiece to stress player safety, especially with all the information — and potential litigation — coming forth about the lasting effects of concussions, etc., and there was no way he was going to allow anyone to muck up or make a mockery of that signature. Particularly individuals in and around the Saints’ bounty program who the league had been investigating for years, people who attempted to hide the truth from Goodell.
It’s likely there are some nervous coaches on other NFL staffs right now who are cut from the same cloth as Williams, worried about their own motivational tactics of the past.
With emphasis there on … the past.
The best thing about what Goodell did Wednesday is he sent a heavy message to stubborn men in pro football who have had misplaced machismo ingrained in their brains since they were young. Playing tough defense, to them, includes blowing people up, leaving people in a heap. In their view, football is war, and if a tackler debilitates an opponent, hurts him, removing him from the battlefield, he’s done his job.
And anyone who argues the point is … well, a word we can’t print in this space.
That’s the attitude Goodell is attempting to eradicate with these penalties.
He’s all for tough football because he knows that’s the essence of the game, that’s what fans love. But encouraging dirty football? No.
Protecting the subterranean macho attitude lingers, though. And that’s evidenced in the rumors about who blew the whistle on the Saints and their bounties, and what the fate of that whistle-blower will be when he’s thrown back in among the agitated sharks.
Warren Sapp named former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey.
Shockey reacted as though Sapp had called him a traitor to the Constitution.
But there is hope in the series of aggressive, semi-vulgar tweets sent by Vikings punter Chris Kluwe in the immediate wake of bounty-gate.
• “Try doing the right thing for once and standing up for what’s important in life — the proper treatment of your fellow man.”
• “F--- you and your degradation of ethics and morality. F--- you and your short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocrisy. F--- you and your idiocy.”
• “To everyone who thinks the source was a ‘snitch’ and a bad person, f--- you and your glorification of criminality.”
• “Commish sent the right message. It’s one thing to break the rules. It’s a completely different one to consistently lie about it for 3 years.”
Bottom line, the one Goodell is espousing and NFL fans can endorse and embrace, without transforming the game into some kind of touch football, is this:
Work hard, play hard, run hard, block hard, tackle hard, but do not attempt to hurt opponents. It does the league no good to lose its stars. Do not go out of your way to bust somebody’s ankle or take out a knee. Do not accept cash payments for doing so. Do not institutionalize or legitimize any bounty program. Just play football and knock off the Cro-Magnon crap.
The commissioner got this one exactly right.
GORDON MONSON hosts “The Gordon Monson Show” weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on 97.5 FM/1280 AM The Zone. Twitter: @GordonMonson.