Roger Goodell and the ghosts of Bountygate

Tuesday, former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated the suspensions and fines NFL commissioner Roger Goodell levied against Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita for their roles as members of the New Orleans Saints in the Saints bountygate program. With three weeks left in the NFL regular season and the playoffs set to begin the weekend of January 5 and 6, if the NFL hoped Tagliabue’s ruling and decision to accept the former commissioner would end the bountygate talk, the NFL has to be disappointed the Saints are determined to keep the battle going.

"What I would like to see is the level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to the mishandling of this entire situation," Saints quarterback Drew Brees told The New Orleans Times Picayune. "We as players hold ourselves to very strict code of conduct on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that as it should be. I feel they should be held to the same standards.

"If someone would just come out from the league office and admit 'You know what, we could have handled this situation better,' it would go such a long way with both players and fans. ... People would come to realize what this thing is all about from the beginning."

In early March 2012 when Roger Goodell announced the suspensions and fines against Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, Saints head coach Sean Peyton and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the three men acknowledged their wrongdoings to Goodell, the football universe and sports fans.

Loomis and Payton acknowledged the violations disclosed by the league's investigation and jointly took "full responsibility."

"This has brought undue hardship on (owner Tom) Benson, who had nothing to do with this activity," the statement read. “We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility. He has been nothing but supportive and for that we both apologize to him.

“These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game. Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly, to all of our fans.”

The ringleader in the Saints “Murder Inc.” program was the team’s former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," Williams said. "Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."

Let’s be very clear – the Saints management and coaching staff admitted the hit for hire program did take place. They admitted their guilt and accepted their fate.

Wednesday ESPN reported Williams tried to end the Saints bountygate program when the NFL began investigating the accusations being made against the Saints but was overruled by assistant head coach Joe Vitt at the time.

According to an ESPN report “the transcripts, Williams said Vitt, who also was the team's linebackers coach, responded to a suggestion that the pay-for-pain setup be abandoned with an obscenity-filled speech about how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "wasn't going to ... tell us to ... stop doing what won us the Super Bowl. This has been going on in the ... National Football League forever, and it will go on here forever, when they run (me) out of there, it will still go on."

Clearly the Saints coaching staff orchestrated and seemingly didn’t care how the NFL would react if they decided to respond to the allegations the league was hearing about. Regardless, Brees remains adamant, nothing wrong took place.

"I think we all had a good feeling just because a lot of us know the truth in the matter and know just how unfair this process has been the entire time, just hoping and praying that Tagliabue would see it as such," Brees said of Tuesday's ruling. "Of course his statement and decision were very harsh toward the coaching staff and our organization. He paints us in a bad light.

“We are very prideful about this organization, we feel like we do things the right way and we have for a long time, certainly since Sean has been here and a lot of us have been here."

Brees comments are preposterous when it comes to the punishment the NFL levied against the Saints coaches and management – Loomis, Peyton and Williams each admitted the bountygate program took place. Does Goodell owe the Saints or their players, the participants an apology – absolutely not.

"Commissioner Tagliabue said there's no one here who should feel good about their role in this with respect to the Saints," Goodell said. "This is something that people made judgments. None of those people should feel good about those judgments. To have a bounty program where you're targeting players for injury, it's completely unacceptable in the NFL, it's clear that occurred for three years despite all of the denials."

Roger Goodell has made player safety one of his personal and professional benchmarks. The NFL is facing one of the biggest lawsuits in sports history. More than 4,000 former players and their families are suing the National Football League alleging the league and team owners knowingly withheld information regarding player safety and concussions from when the league was founded through 2010. The NFL will be forced to deal with how the league managed concussions and player safety.

For his part, Goodell is doing his best to manage the here and now – how the NFL deals with player safety today. Bountygate will forever remain a bitter scare on Roger Goodell’s attempts to deal with player safety. Roger Goodell isn’t going to apologize to anyone for trying to right the terrible wrong that took place with the New Orleans Saints.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom