PUNISHMENT THAT FITS THE CRIME

I know that lately it looks like I’m turning LIFE MATTERS into a sports blog. I’m not. But sports occupy one the prime podiums of our culture and much of our nation lives in a world where sports is a part of their everyday experience and the focus of much of their conversation. But because of that prominence, I am always impressed when its guardians take a courageous stand, one from integrity instead of simply the bottom line; who refuse to be mindless cheerleaders, but chose to be critical guardians of values that go beyond the world of sport.

One such person is Commissioner Roger Goodell of the National Football League. Today Commissioner Goodell leveled the deepest sanctions in the history of the league, sending a clear and forceful message that he would punish illegal conduct, conduct that goes beyond unsportsmanlike to criminal. For three years the NFL has been investigating charges about Assistant Coach Greg Williams and the New Orleans Saints, who allegedly were systematically offering bounties for hits by the defense aimed at one purpose – to injure stars and key players from their opponents so that they would be knocked out of a game. Bounties have long been outlawed in the league which routinely reminds teams that such actions will not be tolerated – they will be punished.

The accusations proved true, and the crime (that is the correct word) was amplified by an intentional pattern of lying by Saints’ coach Sean Payton and his staff. Payton is now suspended for one year, the suspension beginning before the NFL draft. He will not be paid more than $8 million dollars in salary. Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, is suspended indefinitely with no review until the end of the 2012 season. Other staff received various suspensions. The Saints were fined half a million dollars and key draft picks for the next two years. Disciplinary action is soon to be announced against the players who participated in this system.

This is not an insignificant action. Goodell technically is employed by the league’s 32 owners, one of whom, the Saints’ Tom Benson, just lost the services of his head coach (Sean Payton) for the entire 2012 season and his general manager (Mickey Loomis) for half of it, not to mention a pair of second-round draft picks and $500,000. Another owner, the Ram’s owner Stan Kroenke, lost his newly hired defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) “indefinitely” (translation: at least a full season).

Michael Silver of Yahoo Sports wrote today:

From a personal perspective, Goodell’s penalties reflect the sentiments of an angry man – and, in fairness, he has every right to be furious.

Clearly, Payton and others in the Saints organization were stunned by the severity of Wednesday’s penalties. In retrospect, were they delusional? Who lies to his/her CEO, gets caught and expects to be dealt with gently? Who instructs associates to “make sure our ducks are in a row” in advance of interviews with company investigators (as Payton did in early 2010, per the NFL’s report), gets caught, fails to clean up the behavior in question and isn’t asked to clean out his office?

Mr. Goodell, thank you. As one who loves football and does not want it to go the way of buffoon sports like hockey that refuse to police the violence, and even market it–and wrestling that is now longer a sport but a badly scripted “reality” show – you have sent a message that will be heard round the world. And the integrity of the sport, not to mention the health and safety of its players will be preserved.

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