As I wrote earlier this week, I wholeheartedly agree with Tagliabue's decision, primarily because I believe it goes a long way toward leaving Bountygate behind us. Let's move on, put this season from Hades in the rearview mirror and concentrate on 2013. But Brees and his egocentric partner in crime, Jonathan Vilma, apparently don't want that to happen. I will devote another column to Vilma's insistence on keeping his defamation suit against Goodell alive, but today's wizened rant is purely devoted to Brees.
I believe Brees is as much to blame as anyone for the Saints' woes this season. He selfishly held out throughout the off-season because of his, or his agent's insistence that he become the highest-paid player in NFL history. The Saints long ago agreed to accommodate that demand, but resisted the magic $20 million per year that eventually was agreed to. He missed the entire off-season program, which is valuable enough in normal years. It integrates new players into the system, helps build camaraderie and sharpens technique and timing, which is essential between quarterbacks and receivers. But in this very abnormal year, Brees' absence contributed to a situation where, to borrow a much-used expression, the head was cut off and the body died. Brees was the one man who could have rallied the fans and the players while working on his craft on the practice field. He finally showed up on the eve of training camp, dripping diamonds but into a poisoned well. The effects are apparent in Brees' recent performances where he has not shown the patience or the skill of past years.
After Tagliabue's decision appeared to give the players a victory, Brees is back on camera telling a sycophantic Who Dat Nation that Goodell is the evil incarnate and that none of the players respect him. What did that achieve toward putting things behind us? Let me be clear about Goodell's much-criticized decisions. The NFL is staring into the double-barrel of a class action lawsuit that will make the big tobacco lawsuits of the 1990's look like a parking ticket. Goodell will be called on the stand in the next two or three years to defend charges made in more than 2,000 lawsuits from retired players that claim the NFL did nothing to inform them of the game's debilitating effects down the road.
The human body is not meant to withstand the constant pounding that NFL players endure, and the suits charge the NFL should have done more to protect them and educate them on the effects of injuries, particularly those to the head. To support that case, they point to players who can no longer walk in old age, exhibit incapacitating mental problems and even commit murder or suicide. Goodell is not to blame for years when medical science was trying to determine causation and links between injuries and later problems, but he will be asked what he did about it on his watch.
He can point to the Bountygate penalties as proof that he took it seriously and did everything in his power to protect the players and punish any efforts that threaten player safety, like "knock out" and "cart off" bounties. When that happens and Goodell is called to the stand, I just hope Drew Brees is not among the prosecution witnesses whose testimony could threaten the future of the NFL.
by Jim W. Miller
His new book, "Where the Water Kept Rising," is now available in local bookstores, at Amazon.com and at his website: www.JWMillerSports.com