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Goodell rejects argument that players were simply following orders

Anthony Hargrove AP

[Editor's note:  The eight-page, single-spaced letter from Commissioner Roger Goodell affirming the suspensions of the four players accused of involvement in the Saints' bounty program raises several intriguing points, arguments, and circumstances.  We're breaking them up into separate posts, because there's not much else to write about during the league's annual dead zone.]

Lost at times in the analysis of the Saints alleged bounty program is the rigid, almost military hierarchy that brings structure to the inherent chaos of football.

Coaches give orders, and players follow orders.

In this case, with former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams implementing a system that he reportedly used in at least two of the other cities where he coached, what options did his players have?  And so, at the June 18 appeal hearing, NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler aruged that the players “simply followed what their supervisors directed them to do.”

Setting aside for now the inconsistency between claiming there was no bounty system and arguing that the players were simply following orders when they participated in a pay-for-performance system that rewarded players for clean, legal hits that coincidentally caused injury, the argument has some basic appeal.

Commissioner Roger Goodell disagrees.  In the July 3 letter upholding the suspensions of Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, Saints defensive end Will Smith, Packers defensive end Anthony Hargrove, and Browns linebacker Scott Fujita, Goodell initially points out that “[n]o evidence was offered at the [June 18] hearing to support that assertion, and it was contradicted by multiple individuals interviewed during the investigation.”

Goodell then explains that he “took into account the actions of the coaches” in assessing discipline.

Of course, some would say that a one-year suspension for Vilma constitutes a much stiffer punishment than the one-year suspension imposed on Saints coach Sean Payton.  The difference between players’ careers and coaches’ careers resembles the distinction between dog years and human years.  Payton can coach two decades or more after his suspension ends; Vilma after sitting out an entire season may be done.

Then there’s Hargrove, suspended half of a year for lying to investigators.  Though he has never admitted to lying, he submitted a written declaration reflecting that Gregg Williams and Joe Vitt had told Hargrove what to say when meeting with the league back in 2010.

“Assuming for the moment that he was given such a direction,” Goodell writes, “it does not excuse Mr. Hargrove from being truthful to NFL investigators when asked specifically about the existence of the program.  Mr. Hargrove’s conduct was all the more troubling because if he had been forthcoming when questioned in 2010, the program — and the enhanced risk of injury that it entailed — could have been stopped much sooner.”

Of course, that same point applies to Williams, who has been suspended at least one year, and Vitt, who has been suspended only six games.

Let’s focus on that for a second.  Hargrove allegedly lied to investigators, and Vitt alleged lied to investigators.  But the guy with the lower rank got a bigger suspension,  a gap that is magnified by the inherently shorter nature of the playing career.

Then there’s the reality that players who don’t follow orders can quickly find themselves ostracized, regardless of whether it’s an order they shouldn’t have followed.  At a time when the NFL is so intent on protecting those who secretly assisted the investigation from possible locker-room retaliation, why can’t the NFL acknowledge the basic reality that players who refuse to do what coaches tell them to do will see their dog-year careers instead mimic the lifespan of the mayfly?

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53 Responses to “Goodell rejects argument that players were simply following orders”
  1. mjkelly77 says: Jul 7, 2012 11:45 PM

    Wow! These players are getting desperate for excuses now.

  2. pftfollower says: Jul 7, 2012 11:48 PM

    And so, at the June 18 appeal hearing, NFLPA outside counsel Jeffrey Kessler aruged that the player “simply followed what their supervisors directed them to do.”

    I’m sorry what? So while the NFLPA is still arguing there was no pay to injure scheme, they are also saying the players we’re “just following orders”.

    Orders to do what, exactly?

    This is the punk kid in high school caught red handed sitting in the principles office going “I didn’t do nuthin.”

  3. mjkelly77 says: Jul 7, 2012 11:54 PM

    Like Nazis, they were just following orders? I thought the Nuremberg Trials put that defense to rest for good.

  4. sportfanz says: Jul 7, 2012 11:55 PM

    How much more do we need to hear… Time for their fans to stop whining! Time for those involved to be held accountable. Funny we don’t hear the coaches whining…get a clue!

  5. nygmenruleny says: Jul 8, 2012 12:01 AM

    The punishement for the players AT THIS TIME are more severe than that of the coaches. Williams may be reinstated, but he will never work in the NFL again. The players are being punished because they are the ones who carried out the orders, not for giving them. Both are equally at fault. The fact that the players careers are shorter than the coaches makes the fact that they carried out the actions all the more despicable and deserving of harsher punishment.

  6. cwwgk says: Jul 8, 2012 12:03 AM

    I understand it wasn’t the subject of the post, but it is awfully hard to ignore the contradicting stances the players have taken. Out of one side of their mouth they proclaim that no bounty/pay for injury program existed. That the NFL’s investigation discovered a harmless pay for performance system which Goodell maliciously blew out of proportion.

    Out of the other side of their mouth their lawyer argues the players shouldn’t be disciplined because they were just following their coaches’ orders. Well, if the orders were nothing more than to carry out clean hits, why is their lawyer trying to draw a distinction between the coaches and the players?

    If no one did anything wrong then no one did anything wrong. No need for distinctions. Attorney Kessler’s argument presupposes a bounty program was being operated.

    These players are no longer in pee wee, high school, or college football. They are grown men earning millions of dollars. They are accountable for their actions.

    Just like the rest of us.

  7. fukallusernamesaretaken says: Jul 8, 2012 12:08 AM

    Good post, Mike. Keep hammering this nonsense. I don’t have a problem with suspensions, but the league is out of line on this one.

  8. jason1980 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:16 AM

    Pftfollower aka Goodell slurpers, the NFLPA is arguing that the players were ordered to hit hard, and clean, with a pay for performance. Let me NOT do what my boss tells me to do and see long my kids have food on the table. Clean, hard hits, where NO flags were thrown, and nobody was injured, sounds pretty legitimate to me. The NFL could tell you slurpers that the Saints were prima ballerinas and you would believe it. So let’s just agree to disagree, winning franchises annoy NFL fans with poor teams, we get it.

    Good reporting Mike, you are on it dude!

  9. gavriloprincip33 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:17 AM

    I realize that most football players are not considered intellligent but if someone comes to you and says do something that you know – or should know – to be against the rules of your orgainzation, then you have an obligation not to follow that “order”.

    – U.S. Marine Corps 1975 – 1996

  10. thejuddstir says: Jul 8, 2012 12:19 AM

    The only way Florio’s comments make any sense would certainly require the reader to make sure he follows Florio’s first statement to a “T”………..”Setting aside for now the inconsistency between claiming there was no bounty system and arguing that the players were simply following orders”
    ——————————————-
    In short, to believe anything the NFLPA or the Saints* have said would require you to “set aside the facts” and accept what these fools are saying at face value……….no thanks, Mike.

  11. lostsok says: Jul 8, 2012 12:21 AM

    The underlying flaw of the players “Poor me” routine is still the obvious fact that if they had simply complied with the commissioner when it was first investigated, this would have all gone away. Add to that their talk-to-the-hand indifference towards taking the appeal process seriously…it’s just hart to have a lot of sympathy.

    They made their bed…then crapped in it…and now they want to blame Goodell for the stink.

    And they are flat out fools for listening to their lawyers, who are probably just padding billable hours at this point. They get paid win or lose.

  12. jcbadger34 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:24 AM

    “We were just following orders!”

    “And what were those orders?

    “Oh…….um…..to always wrap your arms when you tackle!”
    —-
    “The coaches told me to keep my mouth shut! You shouldn’t punish me!”

    “Keep your mouth shut about what?”

    “Oh….um….about this thing that didn’t exist!”
    ———-

    Saints fans find those two answers completely believable. Did the entire state of Louisiana eat paint chips when they were kids?

  13. thejuddstir says: Jul 8, 2012 12:27 AM

    I know nuthin about no bounty system
    “I didn’t do nuthin'”
    There wuz no bounty
    It was all jus talk to motivate us there wuz no real bounty, really there wuzn’t
    Watch da film, Favre tripped and hurt himself
    I mite’ve offered $10G but prove I paid it out
    It was called a pay for performance not a bounty
    Dat wuzn’t me on the tape,it wuz my twin bro
    Greg Wiliams was the crazy one, it’s all his fault
    We wuz just doin’ what the coaches ordered
    Da devil made me do it
    This is all we’ve heard from Vilma and Co. but yet they say the league has no proof. Who needs more proof the way these idiots keep changing their stories.

  14. randomguy9999 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:34 AM

    ah, the old “I was just following orders” freakin BS

    the only people that use that excuse are people that get caught doing stuff that is so heinous the entire world instinctively knows it’s just plain wrong……

    the real deal here is, when you do something like this… you can’t split hairs about how severe the punishment is…. the punishment will always be screwy in one way or another… and people know that they might get way over punished for it or not… and they took that risk when they did this…. so tough……

  15. msclemons67 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:36 AM

    The “just following orders” defense was completely debunked at Nuremberg.

    /Godwin’d

  16. cmdrsmooth says: Jul 8, 2012 12:38 AM

    Stop it players. Only embarrassing yourselves as athletes. Take responsibility for your actions. If you only followed orders none of you would ever hold out on the contract you signed. Taking accountability and move on, let your fans who might still look up to you see you learned your lesson.

  17. benchwarmer69 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:39 AM

    I have to say, of I were another teams owners, I sure wouldn’t want any of these guys on my team.

    Might sue me.

  18. briang123 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:46 AM

    That defense hasn’t worked since Nuremberg.

  19. silentcount says: Jul 8, 2012 12:46 AM

    Following orders? Did he watch the 49ers game after William’s crazy locker room speech? The Saints players weren’t doing anything he said. It certainly didn’t look like they were trying to injure anyone. The only intent to injure is when the 49ers hit Pierre Thomas in the head. If it was a legal hit, then so be it. Same rules apply to Saints players too.

  20. andrewfbrowne says: Jul 8, 2012 12:50 AM

    Wow, just wow. The investigation may have been hap hazard, and may not have been perfect, but the more of this you hear, the more it looks like this went on.

    They did this. They were told to stop and lied to keep it going and did these things.

    These guys should be happy that Goodell is running this and not some outside professional law enforcement agency. Goodell has come down hard on guys in the past, but if they keep clean he lets them back in without any further hassle. Pac man, Mike Vick, Big Ben, Marshwam Lynch, all had run ins for nonsense and cleaned it up and have heard nothing else from Goodell.

  21. thegreatgabbert says: Jul 8, 2012 1:06 AM

    It’s no excuse. I mean if the coaches told them to run up and down stairs aimlessly would they do it?……well, maybe that isn’t a good example…If the coaches asked them to scream childish slogans at the top of their lungs in unison, should they do it?……or wait, maybe not that…how about…if the coaches told them to skip back and forth around orange pylons, then run full tilt into a large padded cone, should they…..or…uuuh…..

  22. flannlv says: Jul 8, 2012 1:09 AM

    Just following orders in the pay for performance system pool. Nobody has admitted a pay for injury scheme because it didn’t happen, at least it hasn’t been shown to have happened with the evidence* presented by the NFL thus far.

    I would encourage you to read the transcript from the hearing and focus on the Hargrove section where White insists it is Hargrove’s voice and highlights the clip which has been demonstrated to in fact not be Hargrove. Every piece of evidence that has been released thus far has been debunked and proven to be less than reliable or an outright falsity.

  23. depleted00uranium00balth says: Jul 8, 2012 1:14 AM

    The dog years-human years thing is actually a pretty good point. Vilma got too much, or the coaches got too little.

  24. tangysizzl says: Jul 8, 2012 1:29 AM

    They were ordered to lie, or told to deny, however you want to look at it. I guarantee they tried getting their story straight and that would included telling the players what to say about it.

    Does that excuse them? Nope, should it, I don’t know.

  25. topcide says: Jul 8, 2012 1:36 AM

    (note, I know the comparisons are not directly valid, spare me the posts)

    the nazi’s, torturers at Abu Gharab, and murders at My Lai were all just following orders as well.

    Sorry, don’t buy it, what’s wrong is wrong.

  26. korikill says: Jul 8, 2012 1:42 AM

    And now the players should get off the hook because their careers are shorter? What happened to DON’T DO ILLEGAL THINGS! Then your careers lifespan won’t be an issue.

  27. catquick says: Jul 8, 2012 1:45 AM

    It’s called the “Nuremberg Defense” after the Nazi war crimes tribunal in post WWII Germany. It didn’t work then, doesn’t work now.

  28. daknight93 says: Jul 8, 2012 1:46 AM

    Goodell will never agree with anything the NFLPA has to say…both sides obviously see things totally different…a neutral arbitrator will have to make the final decision in this sad case.

  29. saintsfan26 says: Jul 8, 2012 1:51 AM

    Mjkelly this was definitely not the only argument by the players, this was just one of MANY. Florio is just breaking down each one. If you read the entire 80+ page transcript of the appeal hearing like i have, you would see that the player’s lawyers made Goodell look like a damn fool.

  30. roadbiscuit says: Jul 8, 2012 1:53 AM

    Okay, Florio. I’ve been upside your head on numerous posts, but you are spot on here. Particularly in Hargrove’s case. First year back off an unrelated suspension, a clear carrot/stick dangled in front of him by his bosses. After leaking faked ledger entries and unsupportable personal smears, to hold these players to the Nuremburg trial standards is less than stand-up to say the least.

  31. The Overtime Sports Talk Show says: Jul 8, 2012 2:03 AM

    You simply can not go, “he made me do it” as a grown man. Sorry, that card plays out when you reach 5th grade..

  32. macmahler says: Jul 8, 2012 2:20 AM

    This is a well-written article by Florio. The problem is partly of coaches being able to have so much power over young men who feel obligated to do what they are told to remain on the team and collect a great paycheck for a few years. Maybe Goodell has to institute some classes for coaches on the limits of power using the bounty scandal as an example of what not to even start to do, i.e. instruct specific intent to injure.
    Football is violent by nature, but there is no need for excess. If excess wins, we as fans lose, because we lose the chance to watch the skills of the injured.

  33. jedidev says: Jul 8, 2012 2:49 AM

    pftfollower: orders to participate in the PFP program.

    However, I don’t buy this argument yet as the program was *allegedly* voluntary. Whether or not this is voluntary in the same manner that Williams and Payton don’t have a gag order placed on them by the league is not know (or disclosed)

    Also, allegations against the players under suspension are that they volunteered monies to seed the pool.

  34. clickablecontent says: Jul 8, 2012 2:50 AM

    In principle, I would agree that the suspensions are imbalanced, but putting the onus squarely on Goodell is an assertion that overlooks an important point: The NFLPA’s refusal to balance the process through participation. We have to remember that the NFLPA ardently declined the NFL’s invitation to weigh in on how to discipline these players. The players also refused to participate in the appeal. The process is built around the players or their union adding their perspective. Without it, of course it seems biased and unbalanced. It’s not designed to work this way.

  35. trybe29dr says: Jul 8, 2012 3:22 AM

    What does that mean? Hal…what did that mean? I dont understand. Colonel Jessup said he ordered the Code Red. Colonel Jessup said he ordered the Code Red, what did we do wrong? We did nothing wrong!!!

  36. arkadyrenko says: Jul 8, 2012 4:07 AM

    “Then there’s the reality that players who don’t follow orders can quickly find themselves ostracized, regardless of whether it’s an order they shouldn’t have followed.”

    How would a coach prove a player wasn’t following the coach’s order to injure opposing players?

    Say you’re a player who thinks your coaches are wrong to ask you to intentionally injure your opponents, but you don’t want to call attention to yourself by telling them you think they’re wrong. Instead, you play as hard as you normally would, and just don’t try to knock people out of the game on purpose.

    If a coach accused you of not trying to hurt people, as long as you weren’t visibly dogging it you could say, “I’m trying, coach, but their legs just aren’t breaking.”

  37. randallflagg52 says: Jul 8, 2012 4:25 AM

    I want to see the statistics that show if the Saint’s defense caused more injuries than other teams. I seem to remember the Bears defense knocking out quite a few QBs two years ago, but no one is saying they’re dirty or anything. So what if they had an incentive program for big hits, an incentive program is not a bounty program. This is some BS, especially to punish an offensive coach like Peyton and the GM. It’s not like they have any say in the day to day or play to play running of the defense.

  38. goodellgate says: Jul 8, 2012 5:03 AM

    ***I’m sorry what? So while the NFLPA is still arguing there was no pay to injure scheme, they are also saying the players we’re “just following orders”.

    Orders to do what, exactly?***

    Orders to deny the existence of a pay-per-performance program.

    It’s sad that at this point, people still don’t get the difference between this program and the pay-to-injure one that’s being condamned by the NFL.

  39. buccaroo989 says: Jul 8, 2012 5:39 AM

    Drew Brees needs an explanation!

  40. jchuber says: Jul 8, 2012 6:09 AM

    This dude should get the DUMBASS award. How can the Saints General Manager Micky Loomis get less punishment than player Vilma? The answer is obvious– This idiot hammers players for the least infraction, but lets management dodge almost instances of responsibility. Nobody should confuse DUMBASS bias with justice. Ain’t the same thing.

  41. thegonz13 says: Jul 8, 2012 6:17 AM

    Drew still wants an explanation…

  42. insider7 says: Jul 8, 2012 6:31 AM

    So, which is it?

    You didn’t do it, which was the first argument (an argument which failed), or you did do it but you were “just following orders”? It can’t be both. Sounds like somebody is getting too “lawyered-up”.

    This “just following orders” argument was forever debunked and thrown into the trash heap at Nuremburg after World War II. BOTH soldiers and officers (players and coaches) are responsible for their actions.

    This shifting theory of trying to avoid, and evade, culpability on the part of the players is only undercutting their credibility and enhancing Commissioner Goodell’s credibility.

  43. mp42245 says: Jul 8, 2012 7:35 AM

    mjkelly77 says: Jul 7, 2012 11:45 PM

    Wow! These players are getting desperate for excuses now.
    ——————————————————

    It was Florio that made the point, not players.

  44. baddorange says: Jul 8, 2012 7:37 AM

    1. Complete Bull S H It. Players are guilty
    2. Shut up Goddell. You have PR people, use them. Are you running for political office?

  45. melikefootball says: Jul 8, 2012 7:43 AM

    Then if that is the case how about all the fines and suspensions for hits….they were taught and told by every coach they ever have had to do so.. take your punishment like a man.

  46. bearnmind says: Jul 8, 2012 7:45 AM

    The NFLPA attorney made that argument not the players. I’m on the side the players in this mess but I think everyone can agree the NFLPA’s lawyer made a stupid argument with that one. In my opinion (and for those of you who diasagree I’m not trying to change your mind) they have a valid case in the doubts raised about the evidence and the investigation. Stick with the same clear and concise argument you’ve been making and dont let the NFLPA muddy the already confusing waters by throwing in everything but the kitchen sink.

    I hate auto correct. It tries to read my mind and always gets it wrong.

  47. majbobby says: Jul 8, 2012 8:34 AM

    Well seeing we mentioned the military we mind as well say the players are idiots. If they are following orders they have an obligation to disobey an order that is wrong or against the rules. Coaches tell them to go get in a bar fight should they follow those.

    Saints are jokes. And dirty. Sorry the Katrina darling team is done getting passes. Good job NFL.

  48. dryzzt23 says: Jul 8, 2012 9:08 AM

    I’m on the owners side.
    Blame someone else, that is what the players are saying. “Just following orders”? Can they not think for themselves? I am not buying it, they were in on it the whole time but since they are a protected class (as designated by the liberal media any group in a union is a protected class) they feel that they are untouchable.
    IMO Goodell and the NFL should return fire with multiple lawsuits against all the players involved.

  49. normthegreycat says: Jul 8, 2012 9:23 AM

    The dog years human years comparison is NOT good. The players make way more $$$$ than the coaches.

  50. mjkelly77 says: Jul 8, 2012 10:37 AM

    clickablecontent says:Jul 8, 2012 2:50 AM

    In principle, I would agree that the suspensions are imbalanced, but putting the onus squarely on Goodell is an assertion that overlooks an important point: The NFLPA’s refusal to balance the process through participation. We have to remember that the NFLPA ardently declined the NFL’s invitation to weigh in on how to discipline these players. The players also refused to participate in the appeal. The process is built around the players or their union adding their perspective. Without it, of course it seems biased and unbalanced. It’s not designed to work this way.
    __________________

    Very interesting comment. Initially, the NFLPA had to choose sides. Should they side with the few alleged transgressors or side with the vast majority of players, those who were subjected to a bounty program? The NFLPA chose the former.

    The NFLPA’s initial defense of the miscreants is to deny and refute the existence of the program. And they’re stuck at that first phase because that strategy doesn’t work under the circumstances of the CBA. In this choice to deny the existence of a program, the NFLPA has abrogated its ability to provide any input as to the punishments levied. When presented with an opportunity to defend themselves, the players and their union chose not to. They’re still operating within the denial phase.

    If I were an upright, clean player in the NFL, I would certainly resent my union’s protection of these players, whom I feel certain are guilty. This could have negative long-term affects toward the NFLPA from within its ranks.

    I think the Commissioner’s punishment rulings will be upheld. At that point he may invite the NFLPA for input as to any sentence modification.
    But as defined by the tenets of the CBA, he certainly doesn’t have to.

  51. qdog112 says: Jul 8, 2012 10:45 AM

    Stay on it Mike. There is a perception that football players are dumb. Reading the posts here, I’d label a great portion of fans with that unflattering description.

  52. rtant2013 says: Jul 8, 2012 12:49 PM

    If you listen to the audio recording of Gregg Williams before the 49ers game in its entirety then that discredits anything any of the players say. While it doesn’t say out flat that if you hurt Gore or another player then we’ll pay you. It does however, give explicit directions on who to hurt, and specific ways to hurt that player, such as the knock goes f’ing head off, or take out Vernon Davis’s knees, or go after the WR with several concussions. The viel that Gregg Williams spilt on that tape was disturbing. He specifically gave instructions and its the grown ass man to make the decision to follow that instruction or to say no that’s not what a responsible human being would do. Money or no money, they didn’t try to land legal big hits, they tried to inflict injuries, and thats why all the players that are suspended just need to accept the responsibility and take it like a man, don’t keep lying, that’s why your in the mess to begin with. Why do you think the only coach that said anything since the coaches appeals is Vitt. Williams and Payton know they are down and out and just want to come away with some of their respect in tact.

  53. bigfanhere says: Jul 8, 2012 12:55 PM

    I know you enjoy the love from the Saints fans, Florio, but your ugly trial lawyer side is showing — particularly in your repeated biased defense of your position on the last posting. When the comments are getting to you, you’ve stepped over the line of objectivity.

    Neither you nor the NFLPA nor the four players get to have it both ways. The player vs manager punishment comparison is inapropriate for a host of reasons — first, the managers acknowledged guilt and, as you well know, doing so typically results in diminished punishment. Also, as another reader pointed out, the salaries of the two “classes” result in a de facto differentiator. In addition, as you have pointed out, the burden of proof here (given the CBA and the players choice to decline defense in the arbitration) has shifted to the players. Choosing to provide no offense (in the form of self defense) was a folding of the hand.

    In the end, the appropriate call here in the court system is to throw it all back to the collectively bargained remedy. It will be interesting to see if the judge’s ego will allow that.

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