The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal was the hot-button issue of this past NFL offseason. There's no denying that professional football is an inherently violent sport. But since the four players involved had their suspensions lifted, should the same be done for the coaches involved?
Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Scott Fujita (now with the Cleveland Browns) and Anthony Hargrove (now with the Green Bay Packers) had their suspensions overturned (via ESPN) after a three-judge panel agreed that Commissioner Roger Goodell didn't have the right to levy out such punishment.
The contention from those in the middle of this, as well as from Saints fans, was always about a lack of evidence. The commissioner's office maintained they had a ledger which showed the weekly earnings of players engaged in the bounty program.
However, the NFL only ever produced so-called "transcripts," leaving the validity of this supposed ledger in serious question.
At no time did they produce a video package of clips indicating Saints players were intentionally trying to injure opposing players. Sure, there were some questionable hits. Does that mean James Harrison and the Pittsburgh Steelers must have had their own bounty program too?
The most damning evidence was an audio tape of former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams pinpointing areas to target on several San Francisco 49er players. There's no doubt the message Williams delivered to his defense seemed unsportsmanlike, but was it all talk?
The answer is yes. There's no proof from that game that the Saints players actually followed Williams' suggestions.
So, if the league couldn't produce any "hard" evidence and an independent hearing found Goodell couldn't punish the players, how can the coaches' suspensions still stand?
The entire handling of this incident reeks of a desperate PR move by the NFL. With new suits being filed every day accusing the league of ignoring player safety for years, they're clearly in damage-control mode.
The existence of bounties has been an unspoken reality of the NFL for decades now.
It's certainly relevant to point out the suspended players had the backing of the strongest union in sports. The NFLPA had their backs throughout every step of the appeals process. The coaches obviously don't have that luxury.
All in all, regardless of what you believe, it seems crystal clear that Goodell overstepped his authority when suspending those players.
Simple logic tells you that if an independent panel found there wasn't enough evidence to hold the players accountable, how can you still find the coaches accountable? They were the ones who allegedly organized the program. Wouldn't the guys on the field who actually acted on it be more culpable anyway?