The punishment has been harsh, but one that has largely been met with approval among NFL owners, who felt a precedent needed to be set, especially in light of an orchestrated cover-up after the fact that earned it the "-gate" status in Bountygate.
At the owners meetings in West Palm Beach, Fla., NFL commissioner Roger Goodell addressed the media concerning the Saints issue. Specifically, he responded to a question pertaining to the outrage Saints fans held over the severity of the punishment to the front office co-conspirators in the bounty scheme. After surviving Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, fans clung to the Saints with adoration rarely seen in the fandom of pro spots. Goodell said he sympathizes with their shock at the announcement of front office suspensions, fines and draft pick forfeiture, but said a precedent needed to be established that such actions won't be tolerated.
"I understand the frustration of Saints fans and I have great respect for them," Goodell said. "We will be there with them for the Super Bowl at the conclusion of this coming season. I worked very closely as we were getting the Saints re-established after the hurricane, so I saw firsthand the Saints passion and their fans' passion. I clearly understand that frustration, but everyone has to understand that there are 32 teams and everybody is going to have to operate under the same rules. If we don't do that, the integrity of the game – and what the fans love about the game – will be impacted negatively. That is my responsibility."
The second part of the Goodell hammer of justice has yet to drop. He has yet to mete out the punishment for the players. It is believed that the Saints need to know how many players may be suspended and how long they could be sidelined with suspensions while free agency is still underway and the draft looming in less than a month. Goodell intends to reach out to the players association.
"I'm sensitive to that," Goodell said of a timetable for handing down player fine/suspension rulings. "We certainly are going to proceed as quickly as possible. I had mentioned to you that I had spoken with several dozen players. We have additional people we need to speak to and I think the most important issue that I need to speak to is the NFLPA – which I expect to do before the end of the week. I hope that they will be in a position to give me a recommendation at that point in time that I can consider."
While no player is likely to get suspended the term that Williams, Payton, Loomis or Vitt did – with the possible exception of Jonathan Vilma – it would appear Goodell isn't done handing down his tough brand of justice.
"I have been pretty clear that I hold coaches and executives to a higher standard," Goodell said. "It is an important element of what the NFL is all about. It is clear from the information that players enthusiastically embraced (the bounty program) and pushed this. That is troubling to me. I have said that before. We will have to look into who is involved, how much they were involved and what influence they had. I will have to do the best I can to make that judgment on how that should be handled from a discipline standpoint."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.