For months we begged for real evidence yet saw very little. Finally on Monday, the league released its raw evidence used to implicate and convict the players. While the evidence itself wasn't so damning or clear-cut, it did move the story forward by giving us a peek into the precursor materials used to ignite this boiling cauldron of demagoguery and stagecraft.
Let me be clear so as to not be accused of engaging in ambiguity and avoiding the truth. The Saints were guilty of a few things. One, they clearly funded and embraced a pay-for-performance program. Two, they alienated the NFL for years over a variety of issues (addressed in here). They did these things at the wrong time in NFL history and were made to stand as nefarious poster-boys for a league suddenly fearful of the consequences of its true, Hobbesian nature.
What the Saints are not guilty of is maintaining a three-year, institutionalized pay-to-injure ("bounty") program. That this was the original allegation--a misrepresentation at best, an outright falsehood at worst--and that it laid the foundation for the NFL's self-serving, punitive ways, was faulty to say the least. But no matter. The damage is done and the narrative is written.
It's a bit too convenient when, in the same months that thousands of ex-players sue the NFL over a variety of health-related maladies, the NFL suddenly sends a blistering message to the world trumpeting its dedication to player safety.
This wasn't so much about what the Saints may have done wrong, but more so about what the NFL could accomplish by accusing them of doing so.
|One game does not a three-year program make|
Forget for a second that this piece of evidence was transcribed from the testimony of a disgruntled ex-employee who may have later retracted his statements (more on that in a bit), and focus on the fact that it took the NFL two years to implicate the Saints for this alleged misdeed.
Were the NFL truly concerned for player safety, had they considered this act so offensively egregious, they would have immediately addressed it when it came to their attention in the months following that game.
Instead they sat on it, and used that claim when it best suited their needs. What this reveals, and this really isn't any kind of revelation at all, is that the Saints are just a temporarily disposable piece on the NFL's larger chessboard where protecting the king (i.e, profits) is all that really matters. Whatever it takes. When you view the decision making in this light, you see that the Saints simply served to facilitate the execution of a specific tactic in the NFL's long-term brand protection strategy.
Had to be somebody.
This was never really about guilt or evidence or fairness or due process. It was only about constructing facades and fortifying moats. Plain and simple. Everything else is a peripheral detail that distracts from the emphasis of the larger point. And no matter how obstreperous our protestations may be or how unjustly slighted we feel or how truly flimsy the NFL's evidence may be as it relates to their claims and punishments, it's an end-result that was inevitable the moment it unfolded.
Monoliths don't lose the little battles. But crumble they may.
This isn't about you or me or Jonathan Vilma or Sean Payton or Gregg Williams or anyone else. This is only about a handful of billionaires intent on protecting their money at all costs. Why do you think Tom Benson has made nary a peep? If they have to spare a few people along the way to ensure that the end goal is met, then so be it. Tough shit, little guy. All in the game. That's how the world works even if it's "not fair" or even if it's hurtful when you're the collateral damage.
I could spend thousands of words deconstructing the soft, flabby underbelly of the NFL's "comprehensive" evidence as presented, but Mike Florio has done that admirably and you can read about it here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. The only potentially smoking guns to emerge from these latest documents are two things, neither of which offers concrete proof to justify the extreme harshness of the punishments:
1) Gregg Williams' PowerPoint slide that read "Now it's time to do our jobs...collect bounty$$$!" is certainly damning to an extent, but not near indicative of a 3-year bounty program; nor is it near enough evidence to justify banning Sean Payton for a calendar year, costing him ~$7M. If you haven't heard it said repeatedly over the past three months, the punishments never fit the supposed crime.
|Gregg Williams, in dire need of a PowerPoint tutorial|
2) The "transcribed note" detailing monetary sums that indicate a bounty on Brett Favre is, for now, flimsy and illusory. Most importantly, let's remember that these notes were presumably transcribed from Mike Cerullo, a disgruntled ex-Saints' employee who decided to seek retribution against coaches he despised (Payton, Williams). This fact alone should call into question his credibility and motivations. Coupled with the fact that Peter Ginsberg just yesterday claimed Cerullo retracted his prior statements affirming bounties (a fact not previously divulged), Cerullo's testimony becomes even less reliable.
Equally important, a transcribed note just isn't good enough. It's a damning piece of evidence that can too easily be falsified. Who wrote the original note(s)? Is the NFL in possession of the originals? Has the authenticity of these handwritten notes been verified by a neutral third party? Absent answers to these essential questions, any transcribed note is just a written account of some random person saying some random things. If these notes do in fact exist, and do in fact detail a large bounty on Brett Favre, then by all means, the Saints' guilt is inarguable.
|Not the actual note, but an unverified representation of it by the NFL|
But that information doesn't yet exist. In light of how the NFL publicly misrepresented both Hargrove's declaration and the bounty ledger--pieces of supposed evidence that were so weak they weren't even included with the league's official set of exhibits--why should we just automatically believe that this league-transcribed note is legitimate?
And even if it ultimately proves authentic, it still doesn't mesh with the allegations of the three-year program the Saints were accused of maintaining. One incident, though potentially egregious, is incongruous with the allegations of institutionalized malevolence for three seasons. As I covered here two weeks ago, it's simply a distortion of facts to achieve an end.
But it doesn't change anything, unfortunately.
The NFL continues its manipulative ways. Instead of simply releasing all of its info to the players and the public, the league congregated 12 select media members--in private--to catechize them on the efficacy of their evidence. The fact of the matter is that if the NFL wasn't more concerned with shaping the message than presenting the facts, they wouldn't convene "an Apostle-sized collection of scribes" to spoon feed.
They would simply allow the information to speak for itself, but they won't.
Moreover, the act of attempting to control the message ultimately disseminated by their recumbent media arm is another example of the NFL's dedication to manipulation rather than truth. At this point in the game, it's a formula with which we should all be well acquainted. And it's insultingly transparent to anyone with a partially operating brain.
Regardless, the NFL most likely emerged "victorious" for the simple fact that they publicly divulged documentation purporting to be comprehensive, justifiable evidence. The Saints were guilty of a few things--poor judgment, hyperbole, a pay-for-performance system and, at worst, one game over the past three seasons where a bounty was offered.
To say this farcical process was fair, or that the outcome is righteous, would be to miss the mark badly. Mostly, the Saints are being publicly punished for the league's past sins in order to shift existing perceptions about the NFL into a more favorable light.
That's a reality that will endure no matter what ultimate truth prevails.