Hubris–this bounty scandal is ultimately about the hubris of the Saints organization, keyed by their head coach, Sean Payton. You may hear talk that this stuff happens all over the league. That’s like the guy who was running guns in a trunk claiming he wasn’t the only one speeding, so why did you pull him over? Yes, players have thrown money in pools in probably every locker room in the league, a kangaroo court that pays out for big plays, fumbles forced, and big hits. And yes, there have no doubt been games where a specific bounty was set on a player for a perceived slight or because of his actions in a previous game.
This is different, though, in its scope, its persistence, and in the organizational approval that came from the men in charge. Jeff Duncan of the Times-Picayune thinks that the Saints are in trouble not just because they were caught in this, but because of the persistent flaunting of the league rules.
They’ve openly mocked the league’s media policy since Payton took control, including intentionally being more than an hour late to Media Day at Super Bowl XLIV. A 2010 lawsuit by the Saints’ former director of security, Geoff Santini, accused Loomis of trying to cover up the theft of the prescription painkiller Vicodin by members of the football staff. The front office also ignored league directives to disassociate themselves with convicted felon Mike Ornstein, who – surprise, surprise – was also implicated in the bounty scandal.
Ah, yes, that painkiller episode where Sean Payton was alleged to have stolen Vicodin from the team facility. Nothing has come from that–at this point. I suspect that wound has been scratched now and everything will get greater scrutiny in New Orleans. Then there is Mike Ornstein, who will play an integral role in this case going forward, and why this isn’t just about paying a few players to get some big, potentially illegal hits.
From Mike Freeman yesterday, Ornstein was involved in sending e-mails to Sean Payton in both 2009 and 2011 regarding putting in money toward the bounty program for taking out quarterbacks. The NFL has its paper trail, and it ties this to other bad behavior, and ties Sean Payton to having direct knowledge. How do you have written emails and documentation of a bounty program where people, like big donors at major universities, are kicking in money on the side? Hubris.
If you do not know Mike Ornstein, well, he came to the Saints’ attention as the marketing agent for Reggie Bush. He was intimately involved with the Saints in their Super Bowl run in 2009, so much so that Sean Payton credited him for a lot of work behind the scenes. Some of that work, as it turns out, also involved in contributing funds for bounties. Ornstein was such a great guy all around that he was popped on federal charges for scalping tickets, and served jail time. Payton sure tried to downplay their relationship soon after that news came out; you would not know they were e-mail buddies.
How does a now convicted felon, with part of that arising out of tickets from the Super Bowl, end up back on the sideline this December? Hubris. How does he end up sending more e-mails, leaving more of a paper trail, while jumping right back into the quarterback injury bounty game, after serving jail time? Hubris.
This is about just a few bounties like the Watergate scandal was just about a break-in. When the news first broke yesterday, I thought this would be a story and their would be minor punishment, everyone would pretend that players don’t try to hit hard all the time, and we move on. Now, though, I think it is going to be a major deal, and several people are going to pay steep penalties, and not just with a small fine and a few games being suspended. Just like Al Capone was popped for tax evasion, the entry point on the Saints’ penalties from the NFL is the salary cap and league violations, with team officials knowing and administering who earned the equivalent of bonuses.
While there is talk about Gregg Williams’ bounty program in Washington, I suspect it was nowhere near what it turned into in New Orleans. It took an explosive combination of Williams’ willingness to push players to the limits of legality and Sean Payton’s hubris. This isn’t just happening everywhere in the league.
[photo via cantstopthebleeding.com]