Flag Goodell for hammering players the same as their bosses

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist

Jonathan Vilma did damage, but as much as Saints coach Sean Payton? (AP)  
Jonathan Vilma did damage, but as much as Saints coach Sean Payton? (AP)  

Here's everything you need to know about the player punishments for BountyGate.

Jonathan Vilma got the same suspension as Saints coach Sean Payton. Anthony Hargrove got the same punishment as Mickey Loomis. Scott Fujita and Will Smith combined got one game more than Joe Vitt.

And Gregg Williams got the same sentence as the man in the iron mask.

Williams? Fine. It was his baby, he'd done it for years in several spots, presumably with the knowledge and connivance of his superiors, and the price he is paying is appropriate to the level of the transgression.

But what Roger Goodell did with Wednesday's punishments was try to equate what the players did with what those in the real position of authority did, and that is simply daft.

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Now we're not sure if a year is right for Vilma, but we are sure that his responsibility is not the same as Payton's. Same with Hargrove and Loomis. And the argument that they obstructed the investigation is compelling only until you ignore the fact that Payton and Loomis were found guilty of the same thing.

And if that is what links their punishments, then this wasn't about the potential damage to other players, but about not playing ball with the league cops. And that's not the shame of BountyGate.

We know that in football, more than any other sport, the hierarchy is unshakable. The coach controls playing time, the head coach controls employment, and the general manager controls the reward for that employment. This is not an equal relationship, and we're not saying it should be.

We also know that the nail that sticks out either gets hammered into the wood or pulled and thrown on the garage floor, so anyone under Williams' care, or by extension the Saints', had to play alone or not play. The price in football for nonconformity is nonexistence -- except for the most extraordinary of talents, and they get theirs on the back end.

In short, the players cannot be equally responsible to the coaches for the same crime, because that isn't how the business works. So the real argument here is not how much time the players got, but how much they got in relation to their bosses.

If Jonathan Vilma gets a year, he gets a year. But his culpability cannot be the same as Payton's. And surely Loomis is not exactly as guilty as Hargrove -- the illogic of that position is frankly breathtaking.

Indeed, the coaches and general managers are agents for the company, and if they betrayed the standards of the company, even if the standards for bounties have changed since people started paying attention to concussions and lawsuits, their culpability must be by definition greater.

So we don't condemn the NFL for coming down hard on the players. The world's sensibility toward pay-for-mayhem has changed as the true cost of football is coming clear to us all, and that's the way it works. Same thing happened with performance enhancing drugs in baseball -- they were fine until they weren't. Nature of the beast, I'm afraid.

But one stomp does not fit all crimes, and if Payton's punishment was worth a year, Vilma's is half that. Conversely, if Vilma deserves a year, Payton deserved twice that. And on down the line.

That Roger Goodell chose to overlook this basic fact is mind-boggling, unless he wants to now change the relationship between coaches and players to that of equality under the fist. That's surely not what he wants, but it's the precedent he's set here. The players are now equally guilty for following the pressures set by the organization, which flies in the face of the world in which they live.

Now we can't wait to see what happens when a player decides to be a whistleblower on the next bounty scheme or other contravention of the rules. The safe money says he'll be crushed by the industry, and Goodell won't be there for support when it happens. Damned when you do, damned when you don't, damned when you're not sure. Nice work, if you're the one holding the vise. Ray Ratto is a columnist for Comcast SportsNet Bay Area.com


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