Nothing changed. Not one game, not one dollar. Nothing.
But you didn’t expect any change, or at least you shouldn’t have if you were following the unfolding of this hot, twisted mess. So sadly I get the feeling that there was a collective shrug when the inevitable announcement came Thursday afternoon that Roger Goodell will uphold the punishments handed to current and former Saints players Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove, and Scott Fujita.
There will certainly be some initial anger, but right now it seems the shoulder shrug is the only possible reaction. What did you expect? While there were serious questions that needed to be asked and answered (and ultimately, they remain unanswered) regarding the league’s evidence collected against the four players to punish them for their roles in a pay-to-injure scheme, Goodell wasn’t going to simply scrap a three-year long investigation.
But more importantly, in the four appeal hearings the players presented nothing to change Goodell’s opinion, and nothing to make him reconsider the veracity of the piles of documents in front of him. Hargrove’s speech to the media was perhaps the closest they came to a reasonable plea for serious second thought. But even without a clear and indisputable visual on the visual evidence that was the video of the 2009 NFC Championship Game which had audio of the Saints sideline and Hargrove allegedly saying “give me my money” with Brett Favre lying injured, there was still an element of words fighting each other, specifically Goodell’s word against Hargrove’s. The player will never win that battle.
Now the four will miss a combined 31 games next year (Vilma gets 16, Hargrove 8, Smith 4, and Fujita 3). Repeatedly throughout the process the players declined meetings with Goodell, most notably prior to the announcement of the suspensions. This was undoubtedly a strategic decision due to the players’ belief that given Goodell’s all-seeing, all-being powers, a meeting was a futile waste of time and effort. While that may be true, it’s a strategy that ultimately sealed the players’ fate.
In a statement to the players Goodell outlined the simple reasoning behind his decision. We’ve learned a lesson today, kids: sometimes, if you have something bad to say, you should say it, because Roger Goodell might suspended you if you don’t (wait, what?).
“Throughout this entire process, including your appeals, and despite repeated invitations and encouragement to do so, none of you has offered any evidence that would warrant reconsideration of your suspensions. Instead, you elected not to participate meaningfully in the appeal process…”
“Although you claimed to have been ‘wrongfully accused with insufficient evidence,’ your lawyers elected not to ask a single question of the principal investigators, both of whom were present at the hearing (as your lawyers had requested); you elected not to testify or to make any substantive statement, written or oral, in support of your appeal; you elected not to call a single witness to support your appeal; and you elected not to introduce a single exhibit addressing the merits of your appeal. Instead, your lawyers raised a series of jurisdictional and procedural objections that generally ignore the CBA, in particular its provisions governing ‘conduct detrimental’ determinations…”
This was primarily a jurisdictional fight for the players and their lawyers, and not necessarily a fight over each individual case. By losing one fight, their lawyers lost both.
The next question hovers over the players’ corresponding move, and whether or not this case will be taken to a court of law where it can be presided over by a real judge, and not just judge Goodell, a man who may not be able to be in multiple places at the same time, but he can certainly be multiple people, as he’s also the jury and executioner for all discipline. Yep, Goodell has multiple personality disorder, which will surely somehow be blamed on the lockout, a problem that’s been solved but is still mysteriously plaguing world peace.
If and when (almost surely “when,” and not “if”) the players take this case to court to seek an injunction and block the suspensions from being implemented, we can assume that the rest of the league’s vault will be opened, and any remaining evidence left over from testimony by Gregg Williams or the other major figures will be exposed.
UPDATE: In a move that will also be greeted with zero surprise, Hargrove, Fujita, and Smith will file temporary restraining orders in federal court to stop the suspensions, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter. It’s a step that was already taken by Vilma shortly after his hearing.
The primary battle grounds for the players’ lawyers will the flawed disciplinary system and Goodell’s inability to be impartial, and the league’s failure to produce all the evidence 72 hours prior to the appeal hearings.