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Payton's road to recovery should begin with a trip to Florida

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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Sean Payton isn't yet saying if he will attend NFL owners' meetings next week in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP)  
Sean Payton isn't yet saying if he will attend NFL owners' meetings next week in West Palm Beach, Fla. (AP)  

We've heard from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams on the NFL's penalties for Bountygate, but we're still waiting on Saints coach Sean Payton. He reportedly told Fox's Jay Glazer he was "not OK" after what occurred, but this just in: Nobody else is, either.

So Payton needs to explain himself.

He needs to come forward and demonstrate some remorse, some contrition, some responsibility, some something for his role in disgracing the New Orleans Saints, and I know just the place.

Next week's annual NFL owners meetings in Florida.

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Payton is not required to be there. In fact, there have been coaches who skipped past meetings, so there is precedent. If Payton were to pass, let's just say people would understand. Even though his one-year suspension doesn't start until April 1, attending the March 25-28 meetings would be awkward, difficult and potentially embarrassing.

But that's why he should be there.

When you initiate an action, you accept the consequences -- and the consequences here are taking responsibility for one of the worst scandals in NFL history. It's a daunting task to appear in front of hundreds of media members, not to mention the commissioner who just sentenced you to a year without football.

But it's the right thing to do, and right trumps fright.

So Payton should behave as the team's head coach is supposed to behave and show up next week. The NFL office said it doesn't know if he'll be there, nor do the Saints -- though a club spokesman said Thursday he assumes he "still plans to attend, but [I] have not heard anything definitive one way or the other."

Well, here's hoping he makes it, because this is his opportunity to get something right for a change, to do the honorable thing, suck it up and face his critics, opponents and sympathizers. Essentially, it's his chance to start repairing a damaged reputation.

I'm not just talking about his; I'm talking about the New Orleans Saints, too. All I know is that up to this point we have owner Tom Benson vouching for Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, both of whom will be suspended. This is Payton's chance to reciprocate and stand up for Benson and his team.

Moreover, it would accomplish a number of things. First, it would demonstrate he's no coward, making him available to those who want answers, explaining his side as Williams did when he said he takes "full responsibility" for his role in Bountygate.

If Payton wants to apologize, let him do it in front of an army of reporters and broadcasters. It's an opportunity to make a mea culpa, and, OK, so Williams didn't stand up in front of a battery of cameras. He's not the head coach of the New Orleans Saints.

It would also make Payton face the coaches -- his peers -- he beat while running a program that paid players to hurt their stars. I'd like to see him explain to, oh, say, Minnesota's Leslie Frazier (who was the team's defensive coordinator at the time) or Arizona's Ken Whisenhunt how he ran a program to injure their quarterbacks en route to Super Bowl XLIV.

Most important, it's simply the right thing to do. One of the first lessons of parenting is to teach your kids to acknowledge mistakes. If they do something wrong, they're told to confront it, admit it, apologize for it and learn from it.

I haven't heard Payton acknowledge anything, other than he's "not OK." Well, this could be his lucky week.

So Payton should do what he always planned to do. He should make the flight to West Palm Beach, Fla., appear at the league meetings, make himself available to coaches who want to commiserate or criticize and sit down with reporters at next week's NFC breakfast -- even though it will, in all likelihood, more closely resemble an inquisition.

But that's how it goes. When you're part of an historic calamity, you suffer the consequences. Payton and the Saints just did, and this is another step in that process ... and maybe the first toward moving it in putting Sean Payton back together again.

Look, Sean Payton is a good football coach. Nobody disputes that. He's also a highly successful one. But he not only made an enormous error in judgment; he engaged in a systematic cover-up that was so deep and so pervasive that commissioner Roger Goodell called the principals involved liars.

That's a harsh indictment, and it's one Payton needs either to refute or explain. This is his chance.

It's your call, Sean.

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