Daily Special, May 18, 2012
10 Posted on May 18th, 2012 by Himself
Let’s see. Willie Roaf says he wanted to stay in New Orleans. Um, Drew Brees is still upset, and Cris Carter is concerned. Rita’s still missing (as far as we know). There just doesn’t seem to be too much going on right now, Saints-wise.
Oh, and Jonathan Vilma filed suit against Roger Goodell.
I’m trying to stay calm here. This is exactly what I’ve been saying Vilma should do for weeks now, and damned if he and his legal team didn’t listen to me. If I didn’t know it would ultimately put money into the deep pockets of the NFL, I’d buy the man’s jersey.
There remains the question: what does it mean? You thought I was going to ask, can he win? There are a number of answers to that last one: sure, why not, doesn’t matter. Pick one. The only truly important aspect is that the suit—if it proceeds—will force discovery upon the NFL. And that’s why I ask instead: what does it mean?
If the charges brought against Vilma and the Saints are not true, that means the motive for bringing them is other than a genuine desire to punish a rogue team for breaking the rules. As things stand right now, I’m far from convinced the charges are true. But I still don’t know exactly what the league hoped to accomplish by bringing them. Insulating themselves from player lawsuits is the most handy answer, and it has a lot of merit. I’ve used it myself. But it doesn’t seem to be working: the lawsuits multiply, as do the suicides, which puts the league in a tough spot. The bounty penalties ultimately are nothing but PR—they don’t really affect legal liability, if any, on the part of the league.
So why’d they do it?
I can only see two possibilities: either the Saints really are guilty; or something truly rotten is going on inside the NFL. Something that goes beyond mere public relations. Something that the league cannot afford to expose to public view in a court of law.
That could make this the most significant sports story a journalist could cover in his entire career. So what are the leads this morning?
CBS Sports leads with the NFL’s Top 100 players. ESPN profiles the elite pass rushers of the NFC East. Fox Sports tells us it’s Vince Young’s last chance in Buffalo. National Football Post goes Inside the Playbook with Tim Tebow. NBC Sports gives us Rotoworld’s top fantasy prospects. Pro Football Weekly wonders who has the better offense, the Eagles or the Lions? Sporting News picks the ten players who must rebound in 2012.
Only Sports Illustrated and Yahoo seem to understand the enormity of what just happened. Oh, sure, the others have links—but they’re treating it like spot news. At SI, it’s NEWS. Michael McCann, who writes on sports law, explains what’s at stake in the lawsuit and how it might proceed.
Yahoo also gives the story top feature treatment, plus a feature by Michael Silver praising Vilma for his courage. (CBS’s Mike Freeman, on the other hand, is a whiny pot blasting the kettle for being a crybaby, and I refuse to give him a link.)
Still, these guys seem to be missing something. This thing has gotten huge. If the suit proceeds to discovery, there’s risk on both sides of all sorts of things coming out. The NFL is staring its ultimate nightmare in the face: Congressional oversight. If Vilma wins his lawsuit, or even plausibly demonstrates that Goodell and the NFL are out of control, DC could step in—and once they do, everything is fair game. It would no longer be limited to the facts of the bounty case. The league has to quash this and do it fast. My own bet is they’ll concentrate on having the suit dismissed, but it looks to be too strong for that, too plausible.
What they should do is back off, rescind the suspensions, settle. But they can’t do that, either. Because how long would it be before Sean Payton files suit?
What we’re looking at right now could be, in fact, the beginning of the end for the NFL. So why does it feel so delicious?