CBSSports.com National Columnist

Goodell ruled correctly on Saints, but he can't be only judge

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Sean Payton deserved his suspension but didn't exactly get due process. (AP)  
Sean Payton deserved his suspension but didn't exactly get due process. (AP)  

Sean Payton and the Saints got what was coming to them. Understand that before reading another word. A year suspension for the head coach, eight games for general manager Mickey Loomis, six for assistant head coach Joe Vitt? Draft picks, fines? Bravo, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The end result was perfect.

But the means were brutal.

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Justice, Goodell-style, is an ugly thing. It's so ugly, I'm embarrassed for Goodell that he can't see how bad it looks. As the man entrusted to protect the NFL from the monsters within, Goodell had the moral high ground on this Saints scandal -- but his methods, as always, were a moral mudslide.

It's as simple as this: In the case of the NFL vs. the New Orleans Saints, Roger Goodell was the prosecutor. Roger Goodell was the judge. Roger Goodell was the jury.

And then Roger Goodell was the appellate court.

Justice was done here, but that's a fluke. The system was rigged against the Saints, as the system is rigged against the accused every time someone stands before Prosecutor Goodell, Judge Goodell, Jury Goodell and Appellate Court Goodell. Sometimes the accuser deserves everything it gets, and this is one of those times.

But every time? All those players, fined or suspended. All of them being prosecuted and then judged by the same man. Have they gotten what they deserved?

Every. Single. Time?

No way. Can't happen. No legal system delivers perfect results, but Goodell's one-sided system doesn't even try. Goodell's version of jurisprudence is -- and I'm not being metaphorical here, but literal -- anti-American.

Our legal system is pretty good, you know. It's not perfect, nobody could possibly claim it is, but the American legal system strives to be fair. Prosecution on one side, defense on the other, judge smack-dab in the middle. And off to the side sits the jury, unrelated and untainted (ideally) by preconceived notions. Even with all that, our justice system screws up. Innocent people go to jail. Guilty people go free. But dammit, at least that system gives both sides a fair shake.

Goodell's system gives a fair shake to just one side: Goodell's side.

And again, I say all this in reaction to sanctions that I approve. Sean Payton is lucky he'll coach again. Gregg Williams almost surely will not, and the NFL is a better place without him. The GM who knew about Williams' bounty system didn't stop it from happening, and he'll pay for that. Lost draft picks, hundreds of thousands in fines ... good. Love it. Goodell got it right.

But that doesn't mean he did it right.

The solution is pretty simple, but it would require something I'm not sure Goodell can handle. It would require that he sacrifice some power, give up some control, delegate authority to someone -- and not someone in the same NFL offices. Justice can't be found in a shell game.

Can't believe I'm saying this, but MLB commissioner Bud Selig has a smarter system for this sort of thing, and Selig is not the intellectual equal of Goodell. I don't think it's even close. If they were to play a game of chess, Goodell would check-mate Selig in five moves. But that could be the issue here -- Goodell is so smart, he thinks he knows better than everyone else. Most of the time, he probably does.

But not when it comes to stuff like this, stuff where neutrality and impartiality are more vital than intellect. Goodell stacks the deck the way he wants it stacked, then acts as if justice was served when his side wins. It's so delusional, it's like I said earlier: It's embarrassing.

In baseball, Selig has an independent arbitrator for prickly items like Ryan Braun's positive test for a performance-enhancing drug. In that case, baseball said Braun was guilty. The union said Braun was innocent. The arbitrator broke the tie, siding with the player. Was the system unimpeachable? No. There are people who will always consider Braun to be a cheater, but that's not the point. The point is, the system that convicted Braun gave him the chance to appeal that conviction to an independent party, and that third party overruled the conviction.

That may not be perfect, but it's a lot closer to justice than the slop served up by Goodell.

What happened to the New Orleans Saints, just like what happens to James Harrison and Ndamukong Suh two or three times a year, isn't justice. It's a rigged game show. Everyone knows the answer to the question before it's even asked. Hell, there's no need to ask the question in the first place, seeing how Goodell is the only one talking.

Goodell: What do you think, Roger? Are the Saints guilty?

Goodell: They're guilty!

Goodell: There you have it. Guilty as charged. Now, the penalty phase.

Goodell: A year for Sean Payton. But first, Payton can appeal.

Goodell: Appeal denied.

Court adjourned, until next time. Will justice be served next time? Maybe. Maybe not. In the courtroom of Roger Goodell, justice is a crapshoot.


Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.
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