NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell leveled unprecedented penalties on two current and two former New Orleans Saints players last week surrounding the Saints bounty program. The response has been vilified and defended by many since then, and the players have legal legs to stand on in their appeals. I take extreme umbrage, though, to the commonly used “their bosses told them to do it, so players shouldn’t be penalized” defense that is being bandied about entirely too much by talking heads the world over.
My first reaction to the aforementioned defense was an urge to shout “Nuremburg” or other war crimes trials where that defense was rejected. As I continued to think about the issue, the implications of the defense became clearer.
It centers on accountability. Defenders would have people believe that these grown men are simply automatons that blindly follow what coaches say.
To that I say no. Hell no. These men have no problem commenting on anything under the sun, yet they don’t have the intelligence to make their own choices and tell a coach no? Give me a break. Players, and by extension people, cannot have it both ways. Either they’re mindless robots who cannot say no, but also do not have the cognitive ability to form thoughts on anything, or they can say no to anything, including a coach running a system that was at minimum questionable under NFL guidelines.
Players are not scapegoats in this issue. They’re fair participants and chose to participate in the bounty system. Think players have no recourse? Look at a list of grievances the NFL Players Association has filed surrounding a myriad of issues over the past decade. If a player felt unfairly penalized, that player has to make one phone call and the NFLPA would have been more then happy to fight for them.
The final point of this defense boils down to peer pressure. Everyone was doing it, so it was okay, right? No. A large number of people doing a certain thing does not a legitimate argument make. Again, these grown men who freely pontificate on a variety of non-football topics don’t have the cajones to stand up and say no?
While Roger Goodell’s penalties may be excessive, penalties must be levied. Any defense of the action which would suggest players are not culpable in this scheme is fundamentally flawed unless the party making the defense is willing to concede that players are sub-intellectual walking broomsticks. Any concession of that nature opens up an unsustainable Pandora’s box of consequences, so the defense falls apart. Any participant must be held accountable. As my mama would say, “They made their bed. Now they get to sleep in it.”