This past NFL offseason, commissioner Roger Goodell dealt harsh punishments to the New Orleans Saints, as well as to past and present coaches and players. The punishments were in response to allegations that the team's former defensive coordinator Greg Williams ran a bounty operation, in which defensive players were told to target star opposing players and injure them to earn a cash reward.
Two examples are the 2010 NFC divisional round and conference championship games against the Cardinals and Vikings, where Arizona quarterback Kurt Warner and Vikings quarterback Brett Favre were targeted to be injured. There is no question that this was wrong of Williams to tell his players to do this, but the team, head coach, and players should not have been punished because they were not the ones who devised the bounty program.
Saints head coach Sean Payton will not see the field or his 8 million dollar salary for this upcoming season because the bounty program was run under him - and he was aware of it. The league went too far with this punishment; the cash loss to Payton is far too much for something that he didn't even do. Just because he knew about it, and didn't report Williams, does not mean he should lose millions of dollars and a year of his career. In the end, Payton will lose more money than anyone involved, including Williams himself.
Four players who were considered team leaders and encouraged the bounty program were suspended, including current Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who received the most severe punishment of the players: an entire season ban, despite his claim of having no involvement with the whole bounty program. Two things sicken me from this. A player trusts his coach, more than he may even trust his parents or friends, or even himself in some cases. Every NFL player has devoted their entire life to football, listening to great coaches that have given them the tools to rise to their level of success. I am a football player on the Lowell varsity team, and I trust my coaches 100 percent; it's assumed they won't tell me to do anything illegal. The second part that bothers me is that Goodell didn't recognize that when a coach asks his players to do something, you have no other choice, but to do it. In high school and college, you do it because you are still learning, in the NFL you do it because it's your job. He instead punished them for following what their coach told them.
I am disturbed that a coach would ask his players to break league rules, and do such unethical actions. I hate the thought that people like Williams are out there. When players start out, they do not learn how to win games, they learn life skills. My coach always preaches to be the best people we can be on and off the field. That's what high school football is about; it's not just about winning, it's about improving on and off the field, so there's no reason to doubt your coaches, from high school to the pros. From these teachings, players develop an instinct to trust their coaches. It's with this coach-player chemistry that a team, player and coach may all succeed.
Anyone who watched the 2010 NFC championship in hindsight would see that a bounty on former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre is very apparent. But if the NFL can punish the team, players, and coaches now, why didn't they call more penalties then? It's the league's job to protect players from unnecessary injuries. There was no direct evidence of a bounty program at the time, but it was obvious that there were several late hits and the league should have taken action. It's discouraging to see such punishment to young football players.
Vilma and Payton, along with several others who were punished, have appealed the sanctions. In court, you can call a mistrial and get a new judge, new jury, new courtroom. In the NFL if you appeal, the appeal goes right back to Goodell, whose decision it was to discipline you. That is absurd; that is basically like a five-year-old asking his dad for ice cream, told he can not have any, only to ask his dad again. The NFL has to institute a committee to handle punishments and appeals, because there is absolutely no point in appealing to the person who punished you. It makes the NFL seem more like a monarchy than a league.
Goodell should only blame the person responsible for making the decision to have a bounty program - in this case, Williams - not the players who had to listen to their coaches because that is their job, and they were just doing their job. Also, the NFL must fix the judicial system, and take more power away from a single entity. If the NFL wants to deal out as many punishments as they have been doing for illegal hits and tackles, they need to have a more fair method for the players.