When is a suspension not a suspension? When the NFL says it isn’t.
A week after the NFL inexplicably unshunned Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, allowing him to attend the game between Seattle and St. Louis, the league has granted permission to suspended Saints coach Sean Payton, suspended Saints G.M. Mickey Loomis, and suspended Saints interim head coach Joe Vitt to attend Sunday night’s game between San Diego and New Orleans.
According to Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune, quarterback Drew Brees sought and received permission for the three men to attend what should be a historic night. With touchdown passes in 47 straight games, Brees can move to 48 and break his current tie with John Unitas.
“Drew Brees requested permission for Sean Payton, Mickey Loomis, and Joe Vitt to attend Sunday night’s game in which Drew will attempt to set the record of 48 straight games with a touchdown pass,” the league said in a statement. “Commissioner Goodell has granted that permission. Coaches Payton and Vitt and Mickey Loomis will be permitted to watch the game in a private area of the stadium and will have no contact with the team.”
Payton previously said he didn’t want to attend the game.
The black light of justice likely would reveal extensive lawyer fingerprints on this decision. It was horribly misguided to let Williams attend a game, especially after he gave a sworn statement implicating Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma as offering $10,000 to anyone who knocked former Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game. To erase the appearance of preferential treatment, the NFL had to extend a similar courtesy to the other folks who have been suspended.
It’s possible, if not probable, that Brees made the request not because he wants them there, but because he knows in his capacity as a member of the NFLPA Executive Committee that a rejection would have helped the cause of the players who face re-issued bounty suspensions, particularly Vilma.
Even with permission granted, the handling of Williams’ situation justifies suspicion regarding some sort of a quid pro quo, and it means that if/when Williams testifies at an appeal hearing before Commissioner Roger Goodell, Williams will face a withering cross examination that will give new meaning to one of his favorite terms: Kill the head.