Authored by Jeff Risdon - 3rd May, 2012 - 4:12 pm
The Bountygate player punishments came out Wednesday. If there was ever any question that Commissioner Roger Goodell isn't fooling around, there is clearly no doubt now. In hitting Jonathan Vilma for a full season, Anthony Hargrove for eight games, Will Smith for four games, and Scott Fujita for three, the Commish demonstrated his ongoing quixotic quest to protect the shield from any and all embarrassment is still in full thrust.
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It also proves that Goodell is an incredibly shrewd tactician, not afraid to let his enemies hang themselves with their own rope. Since the start of the lockout over a year ago, the one drumbeat echoing constantly from the players is the strong desire to improve player safety. Yet this case proves that for a relatively paltry $10,000 players will not hesitate to go out and try to deliberately maim a fellow player. How in the world can the players possibly stand on both those legs? The NFLPA has placed such an overriding emphasis on improving the safety and the quality of post-football health care, yet here are card-carrying NFLPA members actively participating in the blatant disregard of both.
That makes any appeal a laughable longshot even if the arbiter weren't the Commissioner himself. The evidence against the players is overwhelming and comprehensively reinforced. The argument that they were merely following orders of a rogue coach doesn't carry water, because the players themselves used their own money to help fund it. That is culpable compliance and active participation in something they knew to be against the rules of the game.
I am still mystified that the Saints' offensive players didn't raise more of a stink about what the defense was doing, apparently quite openly within the locker room. New Orleans is noted for being one of the most tight-knit teams in the league, with a prominent vocal leader in Drew Brees. He happens to be a prominent NFLPA leader, one of the named plaintiffs in the NFLPA's lawsuit against the NFL. I refuse to believe the Saints' offensive players didn't know about this, and that they didn't go high up the chain of command and get it stopped is further proof that the practice was endemic and condoned by the Saints with an almost scary lack of institutional control. Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, and Mickey Loomis all got what they deserved, and so did Vilma and the other suspended players. Do not cry for any of them!
Not long after the news of the Saints suspension broke, some truly awful news quickly pushed it from the NFL headlines. Legendary linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide with a gunshot to chest. He was 43 and just two years removed from being an active player. A 12-time Pro Bowl player, Seau will be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame very soon after his eligibility begins in 2015.
His suicide comes as a real shock to the NFL community. Seau was widely regarded as one of the game's best ambassadors and a true warrior on the field, a player that his peers respected and looked to for guidance and for how to play the game right. He was the kind of opponent who could absolutely annihilate a player with a big hit, then help them up and amicably chat with the same player after the game. Seau was the face of the Chargers' franchise for well over a decade and remains strongly tied to the franchise even after finishing his career with New England and Miami. The outpouring of shock and respect on Twitter from fellow NFL players was stunning.
A lot of people quickly seized upon the fact he shot himself in the chest as a telltale sign that Seau was in some way blaming the head trauma he suffered during his long career. The assumption is that he followed Dave Duerson's model and wanted his brain investigated for signs of post traumatic stress disorder and degenerative mental illness caused by the violence of football. But I think that is a presumptuous stretch, framed in part by the blaring tones of the Saints' bounty suspensions and the heat of the tragic moment.
I'm not claiming to know Seau's intentions, but I think that for as much that PTSD or head injuries played a factor, the inability to adjust to life after football is just as important. This is something that goes wildly underreported. It's very traumatic to have done something from the time you were in grade school, something that paid for your college and made you famous, and suddenly it just stops. I actually think this is tougher for the truly passionate leaders like Seau, or Favre or Ray Lewis when he finally hangs ‘em up. So much of their life is defined by their football persona, and when that goes away it can be incredibly difficult to deal with the loss. Seau had clearly struggled with this life-altering transition, having already driven off a cliff a couple years ago after a domestic dispute. I hope that his brain does get investigated for research on the impact of football on the brain. But I also hope that people can look beyond the manner of his suicide and realize that this is a person who had other troubles that football could no longer fill in his life.
Jeff.Risdon@RealGM.com or Twitter @JeffRisdon