Goodell's suspension of Saints players proves this is a new NFL

by | CBSSports.com National NFL Insider
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Jonathan Vilma and the other suspended players are paying the price for their bounty misdeeds. (US Presswire)  
Jonathan Vilma and the other suspended players are paying the price for their bounty misdeeds. (US Presswire)  

Just recently, a matter of hours before Roger Goodell announced what are extremely harsh punishments for New Orleans Saints players involved in the bounty scandal, one of those disciplined, linebacker Jonathan Vilma, made an interesting change to his Twitter account.

He took the photo of him glaring on the front of the Sports Illustrated cover story about the Saints scandal and made it his avatar. It was a startling moment of extreme arrogance. Vilma was basically flaunting it. When a follower asked Vilma on Twitter why he was using that photo as his avatar, Vilma responded: "bc Jon Vilma can."

Vilma went all third person and that, in one tweet, is why Goodell had to take the approach he did. I think there are still players who just don't get it, and Goodell had to make sure the message penetrates through their thick skulls.

Vilma was suspended for the entire 2012 season. Extremely harsh, maybe career killing. Scott Fujita was suspended for three games. Anthony Hargrove, eight. Harsh. Will Smith four games. Harsh. Severe. Possibly even draconian. All true, especially considering the shortened professional life of an NFL player.

But harsh punishments were required, and Goodell was right. Because he needed to make sure that players understand this is a new NFL. There are going to be people who claim Goodell only did this for show, and as kryptonite to the increasing number of concussion lawsuits. That may be true, but it's really irrelevant.

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Bounties needed to go, and as much as I respect union leadership, as smart and good-hearted as they are, the union was going to do nothing about bounties. So Goodell was forced to both look out for the NFL and do the union's job of monitoring player safety by eradicating bounties.

I'm told the union will fight this tooth and nail. All players will appeal and the union might push this into a federal court case. This fight could be extremely ugly. The union released a statement saying it still has "not received any detailed or specific evidence from the league of these specific players' involvement in an alleged pay-to-injure scheme ..."

One union official told me that Goodell "is acting like a tyrant. He's too powerful."

Tweeted Saints player Jimmy Graham: "This is beyond ridiculous! I want to see the evidence and hear an explanation. Its sad when u have to hear about it on tv. Ridiculous!"

The NFL will never share its entire bounty file with the union because the trust between the two sides is nonexistent. The league feels the union would leak the file to the public.

The players will at least partly maintain in their appeals, I'm told, that they were simply grunts instructed by General Gregg Williams to violate rules, and if they didn't do what Williams said, they would have suffered the consequences. Goodell has already said that defense won't work. Players will also continue to maintain the NFL hasn't shown any proof.

What I want to hear from NFL players is what you're hearing from hockey players and the NHL union regarding some of the recent vicious head-hunting you're seeing in that sport.

"As players, we've already talked about our responsibility to become more involved in the entire issue, and that's going to begin with talks about our responsibility to each other when we're on the ice competing," said the Rangers' Brad Richards, who is held in utmost regard throughout the NHL, in an interview with the New York Post.

He added, "We're definitely going to want to have more of a role in the supplementary discipline process going forward in the next [collective bargaining] agreement, but when it comes to it, the league can police it all it wants but we have a responsibility to each other as hockey players to stop this head-hunting."

Responsibility to each other.

Where is that talk from NFL players, instead of complaining about Goodell?

Goodell had to be consistent in punishing players as harshly as he did with Saints management. The franchise had a hardened crust around it that allowed management and players to act with impunity. They didn't care what the NFL said. Goodell has made sure the Saints and every player in football cares now.

This also applies to the entire sport. The suspensions were indeed harsh. They were nasty and even over the top. Yet that is what it will take to get the attention of a management and player base that, in some cases, still believed it was business as usual. They still didn't take Goodell's attempts at cleaning up the sport seriously.

They do now.

The culture of the old NFL where coaches were gods is over, where coaches could tell players to do anything is over.

Goodell's ruling on Wednesday also shows the culture of player arrogance is over. It's gone. Get used to it.

Adapt or get Goodell'd.

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