Monday evening, the NFL characterized the already-infamous "Dog the Bounty Hunter" slide designed by Gregg Williams as "a poorly chosen and ironic example to use, but life plays havoc on us at times."
Life plays havoc on us at times. That could be the New Orleans Saints official motto for Offseason 2012.
I’m not writing this to critique the bounty evidence. This has already been done effectively (and humorously) via several media, including right here on Canal Street Chronicles. What I would like to do instead, if you’ll indulge me, is explain my thought process as I absorbed the information, and my reasons for making the decision to move on.
Some friends of the Angry Who Dat are ready to close the casket on this story, and just move on. I'm a little behind, but I'm getting there.
Yes, I'm ready to find something else to be Angry about. Don’t get me wrong – I still believe it to be a complete sham and a miscarriage of justice – and I stand by my previous rants pointing out the ridiculousness of the NFL’s media manipulation, the invalidity of some of the evidence as previously reported, and my criticism of local media coverage of the proceedings. Now that I’ve established my bona-fide, consistent tinfoil credentials, let me explain why I’m ready to move on, and why I think you should too.
Perusing the NFL’s evidence as released by the NFLPA Monday afternoon, I came upon exhibits seven and ten. Seven, of course, is the handwritten note on the back of an envelope, and ten would be the so-called ledger entry that lists Jonathan Vilma as offering $10,000 of the total $35,000 bounty on Brett Favre in January 2010. If these "notes" were written by Gregg Williams, and the handwriting was independently verified, and perhaps their authenticity backed up by some solid witness testimony, these are the smoking gun we’ve all been waiting to see. Of course, as par for the course, the NFL doesn’t even state who wrote the entries, much less verify their authenticity in any way.
But that’s beyond the point, isn’t it? As I read through some of the ridiculous slides – and I understand that they were included in full to eliminate any idea of missing context – I realized two things. First, Gregg Williams made a poor decision in allowing a 16-year-old girl to create his powerpoints for him. Secondly, he loves a good hyperbole. I mean, good grief, the shooting-Muslims-with-pig-blood-soaked-bullets was a little much, wasn't it?
More importantly: even I was looking through the slides with a flawed thought process. As I scrolled to each new slide, I examined it while asking myself, "Does this slide offer evidence of a bounty program?" Yes, even I, the tin-foil conspiracy theorist, was looking at the evidence with a preconception.
What we really should be asking is, "What does this slide offer evidence of, if anything?" Human nature, however, doesn’t allow it. That’s the genius of the NFL office’s handling of the entire situation. We’ve asked for months where the evidence was. Why weren’t they showing us anything, if it was truly proof of something?
Even the players union got sucked in. Look back at that opening quote: the bounty hunter slide was "ironic." No, it wasn’t. This common misuse of the word 'irony' supposes that there was a bounty investigation going on independent of that slide, and it inadvertently added to the pile of circumstantial evidence. That’s not what happened, however. That slide, apparently, was part of what led to the conclusions that is now coloring our vision as we examine what’s been laid before us. Why?
This is why: for months we’ve been beaten down with half-truths and innuendo about a pay-for-injury program that existed for three consecutive years. Now, the flimsy evidence is filtered down to only those things that – whether they prove anything or not – will be viewed through the lens of weeks of media propoganda. Quite literally, fans and media and players, even the ones accused, are perusing the "evidence" to find evidence that the "evidence" is evidence of something. It’s a pointless exercise in circular reasoning, and that’s why this has become a hopeless cause.
Again, I will not say that I’m convinced a pay-for-injury program was in place for three years. "Kill the heads" obviously aren’t literally meant attempts to destroy someone's head, for example, and that becomes clear when Gregg Williams’s own charts credit some players with dozens of such plays. But ask yourself this: will anyone but a Saints fan (or an accused player) see it that way?
The NFL has played us all like a damn violin (that's like a fiddle, for rich executives in Manhattan). They pushed through the last two or three weeks of increasing media skepticism without showing their hand. In one day, they heard the players’ appeals, played the NFLPA into releasing the information, and held their own little version of the Sermon on the Mount with 12 carefully-chosen apostles at a secret meeting, converting them all fully to the side of justice and indignation. "And blessed are the public relations professionals, as they shall pull wool over the Earth" (Roger 5:11).
Frankly, I’m impressed. Yet, I feel defeated. And I’m just a fan – I can’t imagine how the players themselves must feel, realizing that the NFL has worked this entire process in ways that even the tinfoil-wearing hordes couldn’t have expected. That's why I'm taking off my tinfoil. It's not because I don't believe in conpiracies any more, or because the entire mess doesn't piss me off any more, it's because I just found out that their mind-control rays penetrate even tinfoil. This little hat is pointless now. And, damn, I worked so hard on it.
Also, in the end, it's fair to acknowledge that the system in place, no matter how unjust, is one that the players approved. That doesn't excuse Goodell and the league office for perpetrating a lie (pay-for-injury) when the truth (pay-for-performance) was sufficient to dole out punishments. Even most Journalists-with-a-capital-J are acknowledging that the punishments were too harsh, and that the evidence only proves pay-for-performance, with no direct links to injuries. Still, the players agreed to a system where proof wasn't required, where one man reviewed his own punishments, and where no outside appeal would be allowed. It sucks, but it was somewhat self-inflicted.
So, you know what? Last night, I decided to move on. Honestly, I’m tired of writing about all this, and I’m realizing that it’s a losing battle. I think it’s time, Who Dats, to let it go, and embrace the image that our team has been given. It will be fun to be the bad guys. It will be fun to watch the opposing team’s fans lose their shit when a nasty hit gets laid on their poor widdle quarterback. "They’re dirty! They probably had a bounty! Cheaters!" Damn right. Screw you, I’ll play along. I’ll throw a few bucks into the pool if they’ll let me.
On that note, quickly, let’s talk about the 2009 season. Tainted? Kiss my ass, buddy. The New Orleans Saints tore through the league, throwing down thousands of dollars in an effort to destroy aging quarterbacks, while the entire league offered hugs and cheers of support because those big bad Saints were a feel-good story. If that’s true, if that really happened, I cherish it. It’s a beautiful paradox.
So I’m moving on. Feel free to come with me if you’d like. If you want to keep fighting the good fight, I don’t begrudge you one bit. I certainly expect the players to keep fighting, and I hope Jonathan Vilma takes this nonsense all the way to the Supreme Court. I’ve found peace, however. I’m trading my tinfoil in for a Darth Vader helmet, I’m going to the dark side, and some more cliches about embracing evil.
At this point, you might as well. Because unless a major player in the investigation itself suddenly retracts and says it was all a farce, this thing isn’t making a turn for the better.
What’s that, Peter Ginsberg?
Ginsberg also cites "substantial evidence" that Williams and former Saints assistant (and suspected whistleblower) Mike Cerullo "retracted directly and affirmatively and without equivocation any claims they have previously made about a bounty program," explaining that the league has not disclosed those retractions.
Life plays havoc, huh?
NO. I'm sticking to my guns. I'm turning my attention to the Breesageddon clock, and when that nonsense is over, I'll finally be able to sit down, have a glass of lemonade and a crappy sandwich, and look forward to the season.
It'll all be worth it. It's always more fun to root for the bad guys.