A wise man — possibly Keyser Söze; probably Charles Baudelaire — once said that the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist. When it comes to Bountygate, the greatest trick the National Football League has pulled is convincing the sports world that the entire sordid, farcical, seemingly endless pay-for-pain affair is all about justice.
Or, more accurately, the league’s kangaroo court jurisprudence.
In the wake of former league commissioner Paul Tagliabue’s arbitration ruling on the matter, reaction was swift, widespread and mostly focused on: (a) the legal and procedural facts of the case; (b) the larger power struggle between New Orleans Saints players and current commissioner-cum-Time magazine cover hero Roger Goodell. Was the NFL’s original investigation into the Saints’ bounty system both sloppy and presumptive? (Looks like.) Had Goodell overstepped his authority in paternalistic and heavy-handed fashion by doling out relatively severe punishments on the basis of shoddy evidence? (Tagliabue suggested as much.) Did Jonathan Vilma and his teammates actually do anything wrong, and if so, are they actually responsible for their alleged actions given the leadership of Gregg “Kill the Head” Williams and other Saints coaches? (On the first question, the evidence remains indeterminate; on the second, Tagliabue suggests no.) Also, does Tagliabue’s final judgment serve as a mild repudiation of Goodell’s increasingly dictatorial-like reign, particularly on issues of player safety and misconduct? (Signs point to yes.)
Largely lost in the who-won, who-lost insta-analysis, however, was the same thing that was lost as Bountygate dragged on. The heart of the matter. The point of the matter. At its core, Bountygate has never been about Goodell versus Vilma, a proxy war between players and owners, the trampling of due process or even whether Saints defenders actually had a Cash-4-Cart-Offs bounty system.
No, Bountygate is and will always be about violence.