|Will Smith could have his Bountygate appeal heard by Roger Goodell as early as Monday. (US Presswire)|
The end of one of the great sports dramas is near. No matter what the players say. No matter what the courts say. The Saints Bounty Scandal has just days before it leaves the realm of the living and enters the corporeal state of eternal conspiracy theory.
Commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday will hear the appeals (almost certainly) of Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita. It’s possible one or more of the players could boycott Monday’s hearings, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, but it seems, for now, all are planning to attend.
This is how things will likely go. Vilma, Smith, Hargrove and Fujita will present thoughtful arguments on why their appeals should be successful. Goodell will thoughtfully listen. He will thoughtfully take several days to consider their pleas and then he will thoughtfully reject them.
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At that point, the case will officially be over. There will be statements and pleas and leaks and vows of innocence and promises from the NFL that their evidence is strong despite much of it being unseen. The players will wrap themselves in the American flag and the NFL will wrap itself in secrecy. P.T. Barnum, from his grave, will admire the resulting circus that will play out both in New York at the NFL’s main headquarters and across the football universe.
But make no mistake: once Goodell rules, which could happen by the end of the week, the case will be dead. The reason is all avenues of fighting the suspension will have been exhausted. The union challenges to Goodell’s power have failed leaving nothing but Goodell’s gavel.
The players could try and seek some sort of civil court remedy, as Vilma has done, but that has as much potential for success as Vilma does of becoming commissioner.
Then the Saints' case, officially dead, will morph into another eternal staging ground for yet another sports conspiracy theory. Like frozen envelopes at the NBA Draft or ping pong balls with microprocessors or Bill Belichick having hidden cameras film the Super Bowl practices of the St. Louis Rams.
To Saints players and fans the NFL made this entire event up. The league never had the goods and it was a vendetta by Goodell against the Saints.
The documents turned over to the Saints players on Friday, one source acknowledged, included between 150 and 200 pages of the 50,000 pages of documents the NFL says it has accumulated. To the conspiracy theorists, this is proof of a cover-up.
Since the NFL will never, ever, release all of its documentation unless it’s ordered to do so by a judge (which seems unlikely) to those who believe the NFL is lying they will always, in their minds, have ammunition that those other 49,800 pages -- given a PowerPoint presentation or two -- have nothing of relevance on them.
To others, this is a clear case of the NFL proving its case, and the Saints and their fans need to ease up searching for black helicopters and disc-shaped objects. It’s real. Your team got busted. Stop looking for excuses and the Loch Ness Monster.
What helps the naysayers is the lack of public evidence released by the NFL and this is both a fair and unfair point. Multiple sources have stated to me recently that several of the NFL’s whistleblowers are still inside the Saints organization. If this is true, it’s understandable why the league is so secretive.
One of the bottom line points is a simple one. Why would Goodell risk the reputation of himself, the owners and most importantly, the reputation of the entire sport, all on a bluff? Those who believe Goodell is faking have a difficult time answering this query.
If you don’t believe Goodell has the goods, then you have to believe that’s what he’s doing -- bluffing.
No matter what you believe, this case is just about at its conclusion, though to some, it will never end.