NEW ORLEANS — Roger Goodell said Friday during his State of the League address to media covering the NFL Super Bowl that he understands the anger Saints fans have shown towards him in regard to the team’s bounty penalties.
But he didn’t back down from his stance the Saints participated in illegal bounty program for three years, the reason the team won’t get its second-round pick back in April’s NFL Draft.
“There were clear violations of the bounty rule for three consecutive years,” Goodell said. “That’s not going to be permitted in the NFL.”
He added, “Commissioner (Paul) Tagliabue reviewed this and had his own process and came to the same conclusion, that there were violations. So the reason why we’re not returning any of the draft choices or any of the discipline is because it occurred and it should not have occurred.”
His statements weren’t without humor, however.
As the city prepared to host Super Bowl XLVII, one of the main storylines was how Goodell would be treated in New Orleans. There was question as to just how far someone would go in showing their loyalty to the Saints and disgust of the commissioner.
So far, five days into hosting the event, nothing has happened. Well, save for New Orleanians’ unique way of showing their feelings.
“I couldn’t feel more welcome here,” Goodell said jokingly. “When you look back at my picture, as you point out, it’s in every restaurant. I had a float in a Mardi Gras parade. You’ve got a voodoo doll."
He went on.
“I understand fans loyalty is to the team. They had no part in this. They were completely innocent in this. So I appreciate the passion. I saw that for myself when we were down here for Katrina. It’s clear that what they’re all about. I support the fact they’re passionate.”
Still, the tenor of the discussion on Friday was more serious.
More than anything, Goodell stood his ground, saying he believed the message to eliminate bounties from the NFL had been heard.
"There’s no question that there was a bounty program in place for three years,” Goodell said. “I think that is bad for the players and the game. I think the message is incredibly clear and I don’t believe bounties will be part of football going forward. That’s good for everybody.”
On March 2, 2012, the NFL dropped a bomb on New Orleans and the league, releasing for the first time findings that it had the Saints participating in and running a pay-for-injury program for three years, led by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.
Eventually, Goodell released penalties for the franchise and players, including a $500,000 fine for the team and second-round picks in both the 2012 and 2013 drafts. Additionally, head coach Sean Payton was given a season-long suspension, general manager earned an eight-game suspension and assistant head coach Joe Vitt a six-game punishment. Four players were suspended a combined 31 games.
Those player penalties were vacated eventually by Tagliabue, who placed blame more on the coaches than the players. None of the players missed any games after a lengthy appeals process.
Friday, Goodell reiterated that Tagliabue didn’t disagree with the original ruling.
“The only difference was that he vacated the discipline from the players,” Goodell said. “We disagree with that. I disagree with that. I believe that we’re all responsible for what goes on in our locker rooms, on the field and as part of our game. That’s a collective responsibility.”
When asked about if he had regrets in how everything happened, Goodell unequivocally said no.
Rather, his regret is that there wasn’t more cooperation and shared responsibility in rooting out the problem.
“My biggest regret is that we aren’t all recognizing that this is a collective responsibility to get them out of the game and to make the game safer,” Goodell said. “Clearly the team, the NFL, the coaching staffs, executives and players, we all share that responsibility. That’s what I regret, that I wasn’t able to make that point clearly enough with the union and with others. But that’s something we’re going to be incredibly relentless on.”