The New Orleans Saints and owner Tom Benson just lost their head coach for one season and their general manager for eight games, were fined hundreds of thousands of dollars and must forfeit a couple of high draft picks. But there's one piece of unresolved business I'd like to address, and that's the money Benson saves by not having to pay guys like coach Sean Payton, general manager Mickey Loomis and assistant head coach Joe Vitt.My guess is that it's somewhere in the $7 million to $8 million range, and my suggestion is to put it to good use -- with the emphasis on good.
I apologize if this sounds like dogpiling, but that's what happens when your football team is involved in a historic breach of conduct. Anyway, I'd like to think that maybe, just maybe, Benson would consider turning those suspensions into something positive -- like donating money to a players' foundation or charities, reducing tickets for this season's games, something -- and former player Bruce Laird has a suggestion if he does.
Laird is the president of the Fourth-and-Goal Foundation, an organization dedicated to representing retired players, advocating the improvement of their pension and disability benefits and raising funds for immediate players in need. And he's the guy who Friday called on Benson to consider giving some of the money saved with the suspensions of salaries for coaches, staff and players (if that happens) to the NFL's Player Care Foundation to assist the injured.
It makes sense to me. I mean, if you ran an organization that was involved in a scandal where your coaches paid players to hurt opponents, wouldn't you want to demonstrate concern for the injured? I understand Benson's franchise just suffered an enormous setback, but there's a lot of money that will be saved -- and donating a portion of it toward injured players would accomplish two things: 1) Help them and 2) polish a tarnished Saints' image.
"This all started back when the great John Mackey (former Baltimore tight end) had dementia and organizations like Fourth-and-Goal and Gridiron Greats started to bring it the attention of both the league and the union," said Laird. "My understanding with the Player Care Foundation is that there are now close to 120 players in the '88 Plan' (a program to help retired players with dementia). So, with a billion-dollar institution, why not put the money to use?
"Why save it? Continue the Player Care Foundation and maybe start giving grants to organizations such as Fourth-and-Goal and Gridiron Greats to help retired players in need . It's the right thing to do. And if you keep talking about the right thing eventually it gets done. They owe it to the retired player community with a situation like this."
Of course, it's always difficult to tell someone how to spend his money. Benson doesn't owe anybody anything. He has the right to do what he wants with the money he's not paying Payton, Loomis and Vitt. But you'd like to think he'd consider reaching out to someone -- with retired and injured players a logical choice -- to demonstrate he's as concerned about player safety as commissioner Roger Goodell.
"We firmly believe you have to give back," Laird said. "Retired players can't sit there with their hands out. They're going to need the help of the league."
That's where Benson comes in. Sooner or later, the New Orleans Saints must restore a damaged reputation, and this is a perfect place to start. Saints' coaches ran a program that paid players to hurt opponents, and the organization was penalized severely. But this isn't a penalty I'm talking about. This is a goodwill gesture. It's found money that could be put to good use.
And at just the right time.
" We're talking about player safety," said Laird, "and that's been paramount the last couple of years with the commissioner and with the players' union. This is a heinous situation, and I would say this to someone like Drew Brees, who said he needed an explanation: 'Why don't you ask your wife how she and your children would feel if you were the man who had the bounty on him and was taken off on a stretcher?' "
Maybe Tom Benson should think about it, too.