National Columnist

Vilma doesn't deserve Sean Payton's fate

Jonathan Vilma got a year suspension for his role in the Saints' bounty system, and I don't like it. But understand something: I don't like Jonathan Vilma, either. Before this story broke, sure, I liked him. Seemed like a decent guy. Great player, hard worker, solid citizen. What's not to like?

Well, this.

The NFL says Vilma pledged $10,000 of his own money to any teammate who could knock Brett Favre or Kurt Warner out of their 2009 playoff games against the Saints. That's a specific charge. More generally, the NFL says Vilma helped then-Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams "in establishing and funding the [bounty] program."

That's disgusting. Vilma is no victim here.

But a year for Jonathan Vilma? I don't like it, and I'll tell you why, and when you finish reading the only sentence it will take for me to explain why I don't like it, I bet you'll be nodding your head in agreement. Here it comes:

Jonathan Vilma shouldn't be punished as severely as Saints head coach Sean Payton.

You agree, right? The NFL sanctioned Vilma, a player, as heavily as it sanctioned Payton, the team's head coach. And that's not right. That doesn't feel right, doesn't look right, doesn't make any sense at all. An NFL team is not life and death, so please save me your politically correct outrage, but basically an NFL team operates like a police squad or the military: There is a chain of command, especially within an organization run as heavy-handed as Sean Payton runs the Saints.

Given that, a player -- a soldier, in this case, and again please save me your PC outrage -- shouldn't be held to the same standards as a coach. Especially when that coach, Sean Payton, is more like a general. Or a dictator.

Payton wants to micromanage everything about his franchise? Fine. That's his right as head coach. But when the crap starts flowing, it flows uphill. He should, and basically did, absorb as much punishment as anybody. The defrocked coordinator, Williams, was suspended indefinitely and therefore might be facing more than the year Payton received. If so, that feels right, looks right, makes sense -- because Williams, reportedly, has a history of running bounty programs. Several of his former teams, pre-Saints, reportedly had bounty systems in place as well. So Williams could well deserve more punishment than Payton, even if he was acting as Payton's subordinate. Fine.

But Vilma? He gets the same suspension as his head coach?

Really?

Given that a player's career is a lot shorter than a coach's career, the NFL basically hit Vilma harder than it hit Sean Payton.

And that makes sense to Roger Goodell?

Really?!?

Look, this is not a plea for Jonathan Vilma's suspension to be shortened. He is, as I've said, not a victim here. He's a bad guy, much worse than I thought, for offering money out of his own pocket to maim -- how else do you sufficiently injure another player? -- another guy on the field. Jonathan Vilma should be sued by Favre, sued for a lot more than the $10,000 he was willing to shell out in 2009.

But Vilma shouldn't face the same punishment as his head coach. Am I saying Roger Goodell should reduce Vilma's suspension? Well, that's one way of looking at it.

But I'd prefer this:

Expand Sean Payton's.
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