In the latest of Mike Florio's continuing saga of picking apart Goodell's official statement regarding his decision on the player appeals of the pay for performance/bounty scandal sanctions, last night Florio took on the NFL's protection of the confidential witness(es) who helped the league build a case against the Saints coaches, players, and team.
Like many other investigations, the Saints bounty investigation received a significant boost from the assistance of one or more people who provided information on a confidential basis. Unlikely many other investigations, the NFL has allowed those persons to remain confidential, even though one or more eventually became key sources of information on which important conclusions were based.
Make the jump for more on Florio's objection to the level of protection afforded this (these) individual(s)...
Florio goes after Goodell's argument related to the importance of maintaining confidentiality...
"Affording confidentiality to players or others seeking to remain anonymous in these and similar circumstances - and securing their candid assessment of the issues, free from peer pressure and other impediments - serves the interests of maintaining the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football," Goodell wrote. "Failure to provide such confidentiality would discourage future potential whistleblowers from coming forward."
...and turns it right on its' ear (emphasis added):
That's not entirely accurate (though it's ironic given that the league-owned network encouraged Warren Sapp to speculate on the air that former Saints tight end Jeremy Shockey was the "snitch"). Whistleblowers who become witnesses are entitled to protection against retaliation; they're not entitled to a lifetime of secrecy. Affording permanent anonymity to whistleblowers who never face accountability for their words can actually undermine the "integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football" by creating an opportunity to tell lies that ultimately go untested, because the persons about whom the confidential witness is lying will never even know who it is who has made the false allegations.
Then he continues...
If the league hopes to promote the "integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football," the processes employed for publicly stigmatizing players and stripping them of significant chunks of their livelihood must include basic safeguards to ensure that the league is relying on information that is truthful, accurate, and untainted by bias or improper motives. It's impossible to know how much of the information provided by the confidential witness(es) in this case are truthful, accurate, and untainted by bias or improper motives because we don't even know who they are.
Florio closes with this:
If the anonymous tipster isn't willing to step out of the shadows, even when given assurances that the league will react swiftly and aggressively if the whistleblower-turned-witness experiences retaliation, that should be a red flag regarding the overall reliability of the information that has been provided while tucked safely behind the proverbial curtain of a third-world courtroom.
* * *
OK, we all know the NFL's player discipline procedures are not bound by the rules of the U.S. legal system, but what do you think of Florio's point here about protecting witnesses? Is it too much, or is Goodell in the right?
Goodell has asked for an awful lot of trust on our part, and some of the evidence (when actually revealed) has shown to be faulty or misconstrued, so I don't have a hard time believing Goodell's protecting as much information as he can so he can keep saying what he's said all along about the depth, severity, and direness of this situation.
I'm not saying the Saints are innocent, but I do believe Goodell has overreached in order to make a point/example out of the Saints for CYA and TCOB purposes. I also don't know what to do about it from here going forward, either. Goodell is not going to back down off this, and I'm not sure how much impact the regular legal system will be able to impose.