Drew Brees didn’t mince any words in letting people know what he thought of the league and Roger Goodell following their handling of the bounty investigation. In his classact style, the New Orleans quarterback delivered one of the most damning critiques and showed once again, why he is regarded as a true leader. “Right now, the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players and, I’d say, with a lot of the fans because of the way that this has taken place,” Brees said.
One step Brees thought might be viewed as a move in the right direction by the league would be for them to admit that they could have handled the situation better. Goodell didn’t take kindly to Brees’ suggestion and while in Dallas at a special league meeting said this in response, “To have a bounty program where you’re targeting players for injury is completely unacceptable in the NFL, and it is clear that occurred for three years despite all of the denials.”
It would appear that Goodell’s insistence on the league’s version of the “facts” is only going to fuel the fire that continues to brew in the aftermath of the “contaminated investigation.” For some reason, the NFL and the Commissioner are insisting on making the mess bigger for themselves, a pattern that will likely hurt them in their quest for Goodell to continue to act as judge and jury in matters of player discipline. In its statement following Tagliabue’s ruling, the league said “the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league” emphasis added.
“The unfortunate thing is, I feel like the NFL, through this whole process, including Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, has been all about an outcome as opposed to a fair process,” Brees said. “That’s all we’ve wanted this entire time and that’s what we fought for. Finally, we got that. What I would like to see is a level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to the mishandling of this entire situation.”
Back in March in this exclusive interview with NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, Smith said, “People may not ultimately agree on the outcome, but they should be able to agree on the fairness of the process. I think a tremendous amount of the frustration that comes from the players is when they believe that the process has not been fair. It does seem to me that a simple process where players understand what the specific allegations are and what the proof of those allegations are, and then given a fair chance to address those allegations, is the basis for a fair process that we can all buy into.”
“Thank God we have union that can represent the players and fight for a fair process and represent our guys,” said Brees. The Saints coaches have not faired so well. Several times in his press conference, Brees spoke of the unfair situation for the coaches. “The coaches are told the way it’s going to be and they have no way to fight back. I’d say, certainly, that Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Sean Payton didn’t deserve what they got. That’s the way I feel about that.”
Brees said he would love to see a full record of all the testimony from last week’s hearings to be put forth for players, coaches, fans, and everybody to see. That he believes would tell a lot of the true story about what has been going on this whole time. That’s something fellow teammate and formerly accused Saints player Jonathan Vilma wants as well.
While both Vilma and the NFL Players Association filed motions in U.S. District Court Wednesday dropping their claims against the league over the player-discipline phase of the bounty probe, Vilma informed U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan he would continue to pursue defamation claims he filed against Goodell. In his filing he asked the judge to open the discovery process which includes the collection of evidence and deposing of witnesses.
“This is my career. There are no do-overs in football. I don’t get to stop, wait five years and start over and come back with a new attitude, or a new face, or anything like that,” Vilma said. “This is my legacy. This is what I leave behind. If I were to stop now, the only thing people are going to remember is the bounty. They’re not going to remember anything before that. They’re not going to remember all the accolades. That’s why it’s very important.”
Berrigan ruled against opening discovery at this time most likely because she has yet to rule on the NFL’s motion to dismiss the Vilma lawsuit.
One of the other Saints players, Will Smith, is contemplating whether to bring his own defamation action, especially because he doesn’t understand why he wasn’t completely exonerated in the final hearing decision. He said he thought the testimony of two key NFL witnesses, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and former defensive assistant Mike Cerullo, cleared him. When the two were asked directly if Smith ever put a bounty on anyone or even suggested that the Saints should try to injure any opposing player, both former coaches answered, “No.”
Below is more of the Q&A with Drew Brees from his press conference Wednesday.
What is your reaction to what happened with the ruling yesterday?
“The dismissal? The vacating of the suspensions. Obviously, this has been a nine month ordeal. I’m so happy for our players; Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith and of course Scott Fujita and Anthony Hargrove who are no longer with us. I think that this was some serious vindication. Certainly they’ve been through a lot, (they) had to go through a lot. Basically what got overturned was 31 games of suspension, millions of dollars of salary, but most importantly their reputations.
Thank God for the fight and the resolve that all of those guys have for justice and to fight for a fair process because that’s all that they’ve ever wanted. That’s all that anyone within this organization has ever wanted.
The unfortunate thing is, I feel like the NFL, through this whole process, including Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, has been all about an outcome as opposed to a fair process.That’s all we’ve wanted this entire time and that’s what we fought for. Finally, we got that. What I would like to see is a level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to the mishandling of this entire situation.
We, as players, hold ourselves and are held to a very strict code of conduct both on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that, as it should be. I feel like they should be held to the same standards.
If someone would just come out from the league office and admit that they could have handled this situation better, it would go such a long way with both players and fans. Right now, the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players and, I’d say, with a lot of the fans because of the way that this has taken place.
Also, I would love to see a full record of all the testimony from last week be put forth for players, coaches, fans, and everybody to see. That would tell a lot of the true story about what has been going on this whole time.
What about the feeling that is left about the organization with them saying the reason they couldn’t get to the bottom of the case was because of the contamination of the process by the organization?
I hate to say this because it sounds so conspiracy theorist but it seems like the last month or so, especially once (Paul) Tagliabue stepped in, it’s very staged as in ‘ok, how do we get ourselves out of this mess? Let the players off.’
Thank God we have union that can represent the players and fight for a fair process and represent our guys. Unfortunately, the coaches don’t have that.The coaches are told the way it’s going to be and they have no way to fight back. I’d say, certainly, that Mickey Loomis, Joe Vitt and Sean Payton didn’t deserve what they got. That’s the way I feel about that.
Do you feel that this season has been stolen from you all because of what has happened with the reversal of the suspensions?
“Here is the thing; many people would probably say that but I’m not one to make excuses and so I’m not. I’m not even going to go there. This has been a tough season thus far. There has been so much swirling around us this entire time. We have done our absolute best to try to stay focused and eliminate distractions and fight through it. It is what it is. We’re in the situation we’re in. We’re 5-8 and we’re trying to finish the season. It, obviously, did not meet our expectation level, the result of the season. It’d be very easy to sit here and make excuses and blame other people but we’re not going to do that.”
Why was pride so important in this?
Pride because you know the way that you handle yourself. You know the way that you conduct yourself both on and off the field and that’s being challenged with these accusations going back to February. Even though there was only a select few that were actually named in this things, and suspended and that kind of thing, we all represent this organization so we’re all a part of that and people want to lump you in the same category. We take pride in doing things the right way and treating people the right way. I’m glad that justice has been served in this way for the players. They can’t go back and do anything with the coaches. What’s done is done and it’s a shame.
You’ve been such a great representative for this league but then something like this happens to you. Is it hard for you to still believe in and defend everything about the league that you did before? How did your perception change?
“I love this game. I believe in this game. I hope I can play for a long time. I love this organization. I want to be a part of this organization forever. It is disappointing. It kind of breaks your heart a little bit but I guess you also have to step back and say that I’m not going to be naïve. This is big business. In a lot of cases this is creating revenue, it’s limiting liability, it’s a lot of other things that I think happen in any big business situation. Unfortunately, you realize that in some cases with who you’re dealing with and how things are handled that it’s just not always fair. You know, life isn’t always fair. You have to fight for what is right though. When you feel like you’ve been wronged, which we certainly did in this case, we fought for what was right. To an extent, justice was served for our players.”
Did it bother the locker room that a guy like Mike Cerullo was given so much credibility in this?
“I’m sure this is going to come out later but that was another thing, I know through this whole case that our coaches and our players were lied to on many occasions by the league office, the investigators, as to where they were getting their information and everything else. They made it seem like they had this rock-solid case made up of other coaches and players when in reality they had the testimony of Gregg Williams and Mike Cerullo, two disgruntled employees that were fired here because they did not fit the mold of what we’re about.
That’s why as you really start to dig deeper you see that there is so much more at play here. Is there a health and safety agenda at play? Is it about arrogance and ego? Is it about ‘we have to come up with an outcome’ as opposed to really finding the truth in this matter.
We, as players, we can handle the truth. If you find that there was wrong-doing and it was truthful and you can prove it, then it is what is and punishment is deserved. Obviously, as you can see, that was not the case.”
Not just from a football perspective, but personally as well, how much have you missed Sean Payton this year?
“We can talk more about this when the season is over but I miss him a lot. I do.”
Can you talk about finishing this season out strong?
“That’s all we can control is the next three weeks and how we want to define ourselves for the season. You try to block out a lot of what’s happened prior to this. I think we would all recognize we haven’t played our best football, especially down the stretch here. The only way we can make that right is by going out here these last three weeks and really putting it together the way that we know how. We want to end the season on a high note, feeling good about ourselves, feeling good about the future. We’ve got a great opportunity this week.”
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