As Commissioner Roger Goodell continues to deliberate the final rulings in the bounty suspension appeals, the league over which he presides continues to declare the players’ guilt.
NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said Tuesday, via the Associated Press, that the evidence is “overwhelming.”
“The investigation was thorough and includes statements from multiple sources with firsthand knowledge about the details of the program, corroborating documentation and other evidence,” Aiello said. “The enforcement of the bounty rule is important to protect players that are put at risk by this kind of scheme.”
Aiello’s comments come on the same day that Saints quarterback Drew Brees is questioning via an all-day media blitz the quality of the league’s case, and four days after NFL general counsel Jeff Pash touted the “mosaic” of evidence that was presented during the June 18 appeal hearings.
“Certainly, Drew Brees would not want to be the target in a bounty scheme and that is why we must eliminate bounties from football,” Aiello said.
Given the league’s views, the appeals should have been denied by now. As Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma said Monday, “What’s this guy waiting on? Make your ruling so we can get on with phase 2 already.”
Also, the dueling soundbites from the league and Brees further illustrate that, ultimately, the bounty case has become an exercise in semantics. No players were paid to injure other players. Instead, the Saints created a system for financially rewarding players who in the normal course of delivering big, clean, legal hits rendered an opponent unable to play in all or part of the remainder of the game. Though that’s one of the realities of a game in which success is premised partially on attrition, the league believes that creating that kind of incentive could lead to deliberate attempts to injure, whether through legal hits or through illegal hits.
The players believe the NFL has tried to suggest that the Saints were doing something far more sinister than the jobs they’re already paid to do (i.e., hit the other guy as hard as you can, cleanly and legally). The NFL believes that, regardless of the language used to describe it, the concept of offering players money for rendering opponents unable to continue to play is inherently sinister, and thus unacceptable.
Regardless of how it all plays out, Aiello’s comments make clear that there’s no reason to further delay the rulings on the appeals. Phase One clearly is over; it’s time to get on with Phase Two.