When sports writers jawbone about the Saints’ bounty program, they love to say that it was worse than the New England Patriots’ “Spygate” scandal of 2007. I say, bullshit.
Let’s be clear: What Gregg Williams and others in the Saints organization did was wrong. Period. They should be punished. Severely.
But to say that what the Saints did is worse than spying on an opposing team — and turning it to a competitive advantage — is pure bullshit. Unfortunately, the bullshit doesn’t stop there.
Let's start with the notion that bounty hunting is worse than Spygate. Espn.com’s John Clayton served up a typical, mealy-mouthed warm-up to what The Football Establishment is about to do, which is scapegoat the Saints. In a weekend report, he wrote the following:
“As bad as the infamous New England Patriots’ Spygate case was in 2007, no one got hurt except teams that lost close games. Placing a bounty on opponents is far worse.”
Let’s review. In Spygate, New England Coach Bill Belichick cheated. Cheated! He spied on his team’s archrival to gain a competitive advantage. The Saints also broke the rules, but at its heart bounty hunting is unsportsmanlike. That’s bad, but it doesn’t rise to the level of cheating. No one can say that the Saints defense got smarter, stronger, or faster because of the bounties. At the same time, there’s no denying that the Patriots and Belichick got a leg up on the opposition as a result of their little Nixonian ploy.
Yet, Clayton and others — including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, for whom I otherwise have nothing but great admiration and respect — look right past that and focus on the news flash that somebody might get hurt playing football. Or, as Clayton naively put it, in Spygate “no one got hurt except teams that lost close games.”
Seriously, John? No one got hurt? How about the game of football itself?
Which brings me to Roger Goodell. His initial comments included references to “the integrity of the game.” Tell me, Mr. Goodell, what’s more injurious to the integrity of the game: unsportsmanlike conduct … or cheating to change the outcome of several games? It’s not a trick question.
As for Clayton and the other jock sniffers who can’t wait to scapegoat the Saints — a small market team that they just can’t stand seeing succeed — here’s a news flash for you: Football is a violent sport. People get hurt all the time. The inevitability of injuries is certainly no excuse for ratcheting up the violence, as the Saints obviously did under Williams. Again, all involved should be punished. But saying that “no one got hurt [by Spygate] except teams that lost close games” is like telling Mary Todd Lincoln that no one got hurt by John Wilkes Booth except one guy with a beard — but that Grover Cleveland’s sex scandal was far worse.
Then there’s all the speculation about how high the fines might go, and how long the suspensions might be. Those engaging in that game say that the Saints deserve a much harsher penalty than that imposed against Belichick and the Pats. Again, bullshit. The real “scandal” of Spygate was how lightly Belichick and the Patriots got off.
Ever wonder why Spygate was soft-pedaled? Gee, could it be a big-market bias on the part of the NFL and the media? Let’s face it, the media have loved putting down New Orleans and the Saints over the years. Then the team’s Super Bowl run two years ago — and its excellent play this year — spoiled all their fun. Now they get to pile on once again, and they can’t wait.
Which brings me to the scapegoating of the Saints.
There appears to be a coordinated (except the media aren’t really that organized, just that lazy; one guy puts forth a catchy meme and the rest dutifully follow suit) effort to tear apart the Saints franchise because of this scandal — and ignore all the other teams who are doing the same thing. It’s ironic that some have even fulminated about a “cover-up” by the Saints.
You want a cover-up? Try this one: If the NFL doesn’t investigate all of the top defenses in the league with the same intensity that it brought to the Saints bounty investigation, then that will be the real cover-up. Every honest sports writer in America — and every NFL player — knows that other teams have had bounty programs as well. Sure, they’re now investigating the Redskins, where Williams formerly coached, but this is not just a Gregg Williams problem, folks; it’s an NFL problem.
If Mr. Goodell really cares about “the integrity of the game” — and I choose to believe that he does — then he should order an investigation into all the hard-hitting defenses in the league. I’m talking about a real investigation, not some drive-by, fill-in-this-form-and-self-report, bullshit investigation. (Imagine what MLB would be like if the doping scandal had stopped at Mark McGwire?) Focusing on the Saints alone would be like giving one burglar the death penalty while knowing full well that a dozen others are still out there breaking into homes and businesses — yet proclaiming the burglary problem solved. The other burglars won’t stop; they’ll just be more careful going forward.
What Williams and the offending Saints players did was reprehensible. They all deserve to be punished. But it’s not worse than Spygate — unless your definition of “integrity” is as flexible as Bill Belichick’s — and bounty hunting in the NFL is not limited to the New Orleans Saints.