Bountygate From The Perspective of a Fence-Straddler

DALLAS, TX - JUNE 16: Dallas Mavericks fans sit on top of a parking garage and a fence while waiting for the Dallas Mavericks Victory Parade on June 16, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Brandon Wade/Getty Images)

Mike Triplett of nola.com explores a new angle of the Saints Bountygate/Pay-for-Performance situation in his Sunday morning article/column.

For many loyal members of the Who Dat Nation, the choice of whom and what to believe in this great bounty debate is an easy one: Defend the New Orleans Saints, no matter what.

But for many others, it's impossible to believe the NFL would hand out the most severe penalties in league history with no proof on which to base them. Or, worse yet, that the NFL would fabricate its evidence, lie about what people have said and pay former U.S. attorney Mary Jo White to lie on behalf of the league.

So, it seems like a simple collision of matter and anti-matter, right, Mike? I don't think this can possibly turn out well (if I believe everything I see on movies and SyFy channel TV-movies).

Well, in many ways, it is possible to believe both sides.

Exsqueeze me?

A baking powder?

What is this...a nuanced position that requires a sophisticated level of critical thinking, or is it a wishy-washy, namby-pamby cop-out that lets one off the hook from having to take a stand?

Let's see if he can reason this out without hooking something on a fencepost.

What follows are some of the broad strokes of his line of thinking:

It's possible to believe the Saints are guilty of these accused crimes, without believing they are mercenaries who intended to injure opponents at all costs.

OK, guilty of the "letter of the law" violation of an illegal payment program that included bonuses for injuring others, but not really stone cold killers.

It's possible to believe that the Saints are getting a raw deal from the NFL, that their behavior on the field from 2009-2011 was no more sinister than that of any other team. It's also possible to believe the league has gone too far in making an example of the Saints in an effort to demonstrate how serious it is about making the game safer -- no doubt influenced by the mounting lawsuits from former players.

Check.

It's also perfectly acceptable to demand that the league share its evidence with the accused players. Even though this is a private business not bound by the same rules as a court of law, and even though the league understandably wants to protect confidential sources, the NFL should leave no doubt about why it has delivered some of the most severe punishments in sports history to Coach Sean Payton, defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and linebacker Jonathan Vilma, among others.

Makes sense to me.

However, it's possible to be skeptical, to wonder if the NFL is over-exaggerating its evidence or jumping to unfair conclusions, while still believing that the evidence exists.

Sure, ok.

And after rolling through details, Triplett acknowledges the significant amounts of gray area and that there's plenty enough blame to go around for everyone.

So it is possible to believe the Saints are guilty and being unfairly treated at the same time.

That's why it's possible for the NFL Players Association to aggressively defend players such as Vilma, Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita without alienating the union's other members. The union doesn't believe it is defending thugs or mercenaries.

At the same time, it's fair to blame the Saints for making things worse by not immediately cooperating with the league when the investigation began in 2010. It's clear from the league's statements that their punishments against Payton, Loomis, Williams, Vitt and Hargrove were all harsher because they had originally lied to investigators.

And that's why it is possible to blame the league and Commissioner Roger Goodell for not showing enough common sense or fair judgment based on what he actually saw on the field. Or to suggest that Goodell has too much power and authority. Or to question whether he was influenced by a personality clash with Payton.

Anyone feel compassionate enough to offer empathy for the devil?

And finally, it's even OK to feel a little empathy for Goodell, who is in an extremely tough position here. The issue of player safety is the No. 1 concern facing the league today. Not just because of the pending lawsuits but because of genuine concern for players such as Steve Gleason and Junior Seau and the long-term effects of the violent contact in the sport.

* * *

Now, for the sake of discussion, it's time to revisit my framing question from the beginning of this post...

Is this a nuanced position that requires a sophisticated level of critical thinking, or is it a wishy-washy, namby-pamby cop-out that lets one off the hook from having to take a real stand? And where do you find yourself - on the fence, or on one side or the other?

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