Using the wisdom of Solomon and/or the eyesight of Magoo, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has taken a case in which there was no middle ground and created it.
In a confusing announcement that NFL spokesman Greg Aiello has posted piecemeal on Twitter (which only made it more confusing), Tagliabue has both agreed with Commissioner Roger Goodell that there was a bounty program in New Orleans and disagreed that the players involved should be punished in any way.
It’s an extraordinary outcome, vacating the player suspensions while also insulating Goodell from scrutiny for any of the failings of the investigation or prosecution of the players. Most importantly, the decision avoids making Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s defamation case against Goodell stronger, by pointing out that Tagliabue believes there was a bounty on Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC title game.
So why weren’t the players punished? Tagliabue seems to appreciate the biggest reality that Goodell did not: Football players don’t question the authority of their coaches. And so the blame rightly was placed on the people who ran the operation, and not on players who were merely applying clean, legal hits and hoping to receive the equivalent of a helmet sticker for doing their jobs so well that it helped the team win games via attrition.
Look for both sides to declare victory on this one. The fact that the league, which always seems to get to do whatever it wants to do, ultimately didn’t enforce a suspension of any kind on any player means that the players won in blowout fashion.
Tagliabue, meanwhile, did the right thing while also doing the smart thing. He has concluded that the players should not be punished while helping to shield a client of his law firm from significant civil liability.
In the end, Tagliabue’s commentary may not matter in a court of law. But at least he tried to avoid making Vilma’s defamation case strong, while also essentially declaring that Goodell got it wrong when he suspended the players.