Politicians nose around Bounty-gate

A day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punished the New Orleans Saints for Bounty-gate,...

A day after NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punished the New Orleans Saints for Bounty-gate, self-serving politicians are coming out of the cracks in the ceiling, demanding they be heard. (BRIAN SNYDER/Reuters file photo)

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:22 PM ET

TORONTO - The fines have been levied in Bounty-gate and the suspensions handed out, but the reverberations will echo like a puck off the corner boards.

The politicians are getting involved. That can never be productive.

Five years ago, former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter tried unsuccessfully to get Congress engaged in the Spy-gate controversy. Now, Senator Dick Durbin is convening a hearing of the Judiciary Committee and plans to push for Congressional exploration of the bounty fiasco.

“Many sports involve human contact and the chance of serious injury. But when an injury is by design and is paid for, we’ve moved beyond any definition of sport,” Durbin said in a statement released by his office. “I’m happy that the NFL acted swiftly once a bounty program was discovered. But questions remain about what the NFL and other professional and collegiate sports organizations are doing to protect their players and the integrity of their sports.”

Yadda. Yadda. Heard it all before. Been there. Done that. Listened to the rhetoric. It’s all starting to sound like when naval-gazing Canadians get all warped up with angst when Team Canada loses an international hockey tournament, or how — when somebody is seriously injured — there has to be an investigation into what’s wrong with the game.

There’s nothing wrong with the game. It’s just that sometimes there is something wrong with the people who play the games. People do stupid things.

That’s why we have the Roger Goodells. And, if it’s really horrid, that’s why we have courts and laws. But politicians and sports go together like ketchup on cake.

Former Ontario Attorney General Roy McMurtry tried to officiate the game from Queen’s Park. He even charged Dan Maloney with assault for hitting the Leafs’ Brian Glennie with his stick. Forty years later that’s left all the impact of a Phil Kessel body check. We’ve wasted royal commissions, white papers, blue papers and toilet paper on these issues.

“Let’s be real basic about it here,” Senator Durbin told Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press. “If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought (about whether it’s wrong). ‘You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?’”

That’s just it. It didn’t happen off the field.

Not to minimize what the Saints did. They deserve to be fined, suspended, whatever. They crossed a line, but the league handled it and getting politicians involved will solve nothing.

When players step onto a hockey rink or football field it isn’t like stepping onto a street corner. The job of a pro athlete comes with certain expectations of violence. There are restrictions. There should be swift retribution for anyone who oversteps those bounds. That’s why James Harrison deserves to get his butt glued to the living room couch for being a dumb-head, head hunter.

Senator Durbin announced the hearing Thursday, on the floor of the Senate. Representatives from the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA will be invited to testify. Like that’s going to change anything.

Goodell’s suspensions — and fines — may help change football’s culture. A bunch of guys in suits in Washington will have about as much chance of coming to an edifying conclusion as one of Tim Tebow’s lame duck passes.

Meantime, former Saints’ tight end Jeremy Shockey has refuted charges by former Bucs’ tackle Warren Sapp, who said that Shockey was the “snitch” who informed the league office about the Saints’ bounty case.

Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended for a year, assistant Joe Vitt six games and GM Mickey Loomis for eight games. Gregg Williams is gone for at least a year, maybe more. On Twitter, Shockey posted what appeared to be text messages, including one from Payton that said, “I know you had nothing to do with that.”

Shockey told Yahoo Sports that Sapp’s accusation was false and totally inexcusable. “It’s reckless, it’s careless, it’s hurtful to me and the great time I had with the Saints,” Shockey said. “Sean Payton is a father figure to me. I would never do that to him or to the Saints.”

Saints fans were unanimous in their anger at the suspensions, calling them intolerable and heavy-handed.

“I will not watch the NFL for the next year,” said Brent Ardeneaux, a 30-year-fan and season ticket holder. “I will not buy any of their products or support them in any way. And I think all Saints fans should do the same. This is outrageous, way outdone.”

“Looks like we are the scapegoat of the league,” said Gail Thomas.

Former Saints player Joe Horn told SiriusXM NFL Radio the punishment levied shows that there needs to be a check on Goodell’s power.

“The man got too much damn power,” said Horn, who once was fined $30,000 for using a phone as a prop in a touchdown celebration. “For him to come down and do that? And, you know, it’s the players’ fault, because they should ask for his damn job. He’s just not a fair commissioner.”

Horn said Goodell busted Payton and the Saints for activities that are commonplace in the NFL.

“Quiet as it’s kept, we all had big hits and we all had money pots for big hits. It wasn’t a bounty, but we all had big hits and we got paid for knocking guys out of the game,” Horn said.

Which is precisely, of course, what Goodell is trying to change.

Even the governor of Louisiana got in on the debate. “Certainly as a football fan, I do hope that in addition to what they’re doing to the Saints, I do hope they hold other teams to the same accountability,” Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal said. “If other teams are guilty of the same behaviour, I hope they’ll face the same type of scrutiny, the same type of sanctions.”

Goodell is working on it. But it’s going to take time. If every NFL player who ever hit an opponent with malice in his heart were suspended, chances are the schedule would be a mite thin next autumn.


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