Roger Goodell was right and the players won their appeal.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue issued a ruling Tuesday that gives both sides reasons to say they won.
Tagliabue says the bounty program existed and that Goodell was right on the facts, that there was something nefarious going on inside the Saints organization.
He also believes the players were unfairly disciplined, that their suspensions and fines were beyond any precedent previously set and shouldn’t have been issued.
And yet, I can’t imagine the players are finding the end result palatable.
For Will Smith, Jonathan Vilma and Anthony Hargrove, Tagliabue may have said the suspensions and fines were out of control. Still he says they were involved in something they shouldn’t have been.
For nine months, those involved have had their names associated with what, on the surface, is one of the ugliest black marks in football over the past few decades.
Only Scott Fujita was fully exonerated and only he can fully feel good about Tagliabue’s decision.
As for the other three, regardless that they’re going to keep their money and their ability to play, they’ll still have the bounty asterisk attached to their names.
If I were one of the players, I wouldn’t feel like Tuesday’s decision ultimately was a win.
Drew Brees, who wasn’t involved in the Year of the Bounty, might as well have been talking for all four named players when he tweeted, “Congratulations to our players for having the suspensions vacated. Unfortunately, there are some things that can never be taken back.”
The past nine months won’t go away. Neither will the stigma that has been attached to those involved.
Peter Ginsberg, Vilma’s attorney, has told multiple media outlets that the defamation suit against Goodell will continue, an attempt to fully clear at least his client’s name.
The current commissioner is under tremendous pressure to keep the game of football financially viable. With lawsuits being filed by former players related to the head trauma issue, he felt like he had to swing for the fences.
While he initially hit the home run, upon review, the ball was just out of fair play.
The problem, ultimately, is that he thought he had an open and shut case. Based on Tagliabue’s ruling, it wasn’t so open and it clearly wasn’t shut thanks to the cover-up orchestrated by the higher-ups in the organization.
Goodell should have made sure all of his ducks were in a row before issuing penalties so severe to players.
That’s not going to make the players feel any better and that’s why Vilma’s lawsuit will continue.
Nothing that happened Tuesday will give the Saints their season back.
The only thing it does is allow both sides to say they were right.
Yet, if the players were involved and took part in this program, it’s hard to see how no penalties were justified.
Sure, it’s clear in Tagliabue’s decision that he’s putting the onus and most of the blame on the coaches. But the only way I see there being no penalties at all is if the players were ultimately found to not have been involved.
Tagliabue is basically saying Goodell botched this one. But he's also giving the current commissioner an out.
And that doesn't feel right.