Congratulations go out to Saints' linebacker Jonathan Vilma.
Not for winning a vacation from his season-long Bountygate suspension he was handed by the NFL earlier this year, but rather, for his choice of celebratory shout-out.
"Victory is mine!!!! -Stewie Griffin," texted Mr. Vilma after he received the joyous news. Classy move, Jon. Had you quoted Bart Simpson instead I would've been seriously disappointed in you, dude.
As for the liberation of Vilma and his co-appellants: Because I have no good basis for doubting or supporting the soundness of the appellate panel's legal ruling on Friday (9-7), meaning, I don't have all the facts, I'll leave the deep analysis to the talking heads.
It was a different story last spring in the case against Ryan Braun. When Braun's PED suspension was vacated by MLB's 3-person arbitration panel (2-1), the facts were fewer, more clear and I felt at ease in criticizing what still seems an erroneous decision.
But Bountygate's a different kettle of fish.
There are questions of power (Goodell vs. arbitrator), standards (CBA articles 14 & 46), pay parameters (bounty-$ vs. NFL contracts & salary caps) and what constitutes an 'intent to injure' beyond game rules, that all require homework this writer didn't hand in.
Even so, I side with the NFL and Goodell in this Bountygate travesty. Why? Because I trust them. When the NFL Suits negotiate those billion dollar deals with networks & merchandisers, I know they're all greedmeisters to the core and wouldn't trust 'em as far as I could throw 'em. Like I wrote, Bountygate's different.
There are half a dozen reasons why Saints' personnel might avoid the truth and claim innocence in the face of bounty evidence. But I can't think of one good reason why the NFL would have anything but the good of the game in mind as cause for their Bountygate investigation. The Saints and Katrina-ravaged New Orleans had become a source of inspiration for all Americans. When the NFL got wind of something terribly wrong in the Saints' playbook, they had to take action, as over-reaching as it may have proved.
'The road to hell is paved with (the NFL's) good intentions?' Hardly the case here. More like, 'No good deed goes unpunished.'
And I have a feeling I'm not alone in my sentiments. Apart from Saintsland and the captured media who are talking compromise today, most fans voicing a view have been in agreement with the League's strong action prior to the recent vacation of bounty bans. The evidence aired was plenty persuasive while much of the defense played in public has consisted of only indignant denials. So what's new?
There's one image connected to Bountygate that will resonate long and which no panel can overturn in the minds of football fans across the nation. That's the sight of ironman Brett Favre crumpling like a crushed Dixie cup after that wicked, over-under tackle by Saints' defenders in the 2009 NFC title game. Whether those particular players were acting on bounty is not important, as that play has come to symbolize the nasty scheme, one that culpable players could've rejected. And acting on orders (coaches) is a poor defense.
What is important is that a precedent, of sorts, has been set. Besides the lesson given both the NFL and NFLPA in the art of CBA interpretation, the message that bounties are wrong and will not be permitted is still crystal clear.
How the New Orleans Saints would respond to effects of Bountygate was a big question entering NFL 2012. Before the appellate panel's decision, many believed the suspensions would be a source of motivation, something New Orleans might rally around. Non-player suspensions still remain in place but things have changed a bit. Now the bigger question is, how will the rest of the League respond to the Saints new claim of vindication?