Saints' Benson hiring Freeh to uncover Bountygate truth is responsible move

by | Senior NFL Columnist

Freeh's comprehensive Penn State report leads to optimism about his Saints investigation. (Getty Images)  
Freeh's comprehensive Penn State report leads to optimism about his Saints investigation. (Getty Images)  

Past and present New Orleans Saints players claim they're innocent of Bountygate charges. The NFL insists they're not. Well, now we find out who knows what they are talking about.

Because now former FBI director Louis Freeh -- yes, that Louis Freeh -- moves from investigating Penn State to the New Orleans Saints. Freeh and his team earlier this spring were hired by Saints owner Tom Benson in a bold and courageous move that should set the record straight once and for all.

That's what happened at Penn State, where Freeh uncovered a series of coverups in the Jerry Sandusky scandal that tarnishes the legacy of former coach Joe Paterno. Freeh was hired by the university, and he did what he was hired to do -- which was to tell us what happened, how it happened and who was implicated by what they did and did not do.

Furthermore, he didn't give a rip about protecting reputations. He simply dug for the truth, no matter how alarming it might be.

His report was as comprehensive as it was damning, and credit Penn State for making the tough call. The university wasn't afraid to hear where it might've screwed up, hoping to discover in the Sandusky case something that could prevent this from happening again.

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Apparently, Benson isn't afraid of the truth, either. Like Penn State, he didn't have to budge and could've taken his lumps from the NFL office and moved on. But in hiring Freeh, he has made it clear he wants to get to the bottom of a scandal that won't go away.

But he won't limit the inquiry to Bountygate. Freeh will look into allegations of electronic eavesdropping of opposing coaches, too, which makes sense considering there's still an open criminal investigation into the charges.

Essentially, Benson has asked Freeh to tell him what he doesn't know about his organization, and that's not just smart; it's downright responsible. Benson runs a business where staff and employees were suspended and penalized for breaking rules and disgracing the organization, and my guess is that if this were you instead of Benson, you would want to make sure it didn't occur again.

Maybe, as Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma suggests, the NFL has it all wrong, but call me skeptical. The league claims it has over 18,000 documents and 50,000 pages that implicate the Saints in a bounty system designed to hurt opponents, and I would expect nothing less. It's as several owners and general managers at this spring's league meetings told me: Do you honestly believe the commissioner and NFL attorneys would make charges of this magnitude without a thorough investigation and considerable evidence?

Furthermore, the guy at the center of the controversy -- defensive coordinator Gregg Williams -- already has taken responsibility and apologized for what he termed "a terrible mistake." Worse, there's an audiotape out there of Williams ordering players to inflict specific injuries on San Francisco player before last season's playoff loss to the 49ers -- after the Saints were warned the NFL was on to them and ordered them to stop.

It took Freeh eight months to release his findings in the Penn State case, and it may take another eight to discover what happened in New Orleans. All I know is that his involvement is welcome. Because sooner or later we're going to get to the bottom of this, and when we do, the name-calling can end.

As a private entity, the Saints aren't obligated to make their report public as Penn State did, but here's hoping Benson continues what is right and responsible and tells us what Louis Freeh tells him.

"But," one radio talk-show host told me Friday morning, "this could be one of those 'be careful what you wish for' scenarios."

It could. Which is why I applaud Benson for making the first move. It could be that the Saints are in the clear, or it could be that Freeh uncovers more, much more, than we've been told. The NFL alleged a system of lying and coverups that went straight to the top, with general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton ignoring warnings to stop a practice that the league says was aimed at, among others, quarterbacks Brett Favre, Kurt Warner, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers and Matt Hasselbeck.

It also says it has a mountain of evidence, some of which it shared recently with reporters. But it wasn't enough to make a convincing case -- not, at least, in the eyes of those accused -- so it's time we find out exactly what did or did not happen in New Orleans.

Lawsuits or arbitrators won't determine that, but Louis Freeh will. If you don't believe me, ask anyone from Penn State.


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