Jun 182013

Nick CelliniAtlanta sports radio station 790 The Zone has fired hosts Stephen “Steak” Shapiro, Nick Cellini, and Chris Dimino for an unbelievably tasteless skit taking shots at former former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason, who is battling Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

During the skit, the hosts staged a fictitious guest appearance by Gleason (performed by Cellini), pretending that Gleason was using a voice synthesizer to sound like Stephen Hawking. “Gleason” then went on to say, “I wish I could play”, “I may not be here on Thursday”, “Smother me… do me a favor”, and “I’m going to Hell” in a short skit that wouldn’t be funny even if the material wasn’t outrageous. Pro Football Talk (PFT) and other sites have shared a link to the “bit”, and I have listened to it. I’m not going to bother to share the link; you can find it if you want to, but it’s really not worth listening to.

For it’s part, the station first suspended the trio, then followed up with this statement: “We deeply regret the offensive programming that aired this morning on ‘Mayhem In The AM’ on 790 The Zone, related to former New Orleans Saints player Steve Gleason and his battle with ALS. We suspended the three individuals involved immediately following their comments and have since terminated their employment. 790 The Zone, our owners, sponsors and partners in no way endorse or support this kind of content. We sincerely apologize to Mr. Gleason, his family and all those touched by ALS.”

790 The Zone absolutely did the right thing in terminating these morons. And for anyone wishing to allege that this is political correctness run amuck, or that the hosts have the right of free speech, a couple of thoughts. First, some things aren’t funny; especially when they involve physical or mental ailments that a person cannot control. Whether it is Gleason’s ALS, or Rush Limbaugh shaking like a rag doll when making fun of Michael J. Fox, it’s just not funny. And sure, this is America and people can say what they want for the most part, but freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from responsibility. The radio station is a business driven by advertising, and the station was well aware of the fact that sponsors would likely walk (and should have) if the station did not take strong action. This was on company time, not personal time, and I am glad the station did the right thing. What remains to be seen now is whether or not these idiots get rewarded with a show on ESPN.

I hope I’m kidding.

Dec 112012

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was dealt a serious blow today when former Commissioner and current arbiter Paul Tagliabue determined that, while the New Orleans Saints were clearly operating a bounty program that was in violation of league rules, the case against the players was “contaminated” by Saints’ coaches and others, suggesting that any discipline beyond fines was unfair, and all discipline against individual players was vacated.

“Unlike Saints’ broad organizational misconduct, player appeals involve sharply focused issues of alleged individual player misconduct in several different aspects,” Tagliabue said in a statement released by the league. “My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell’s findings could certainly justify the issuance of fines. However, this entire case has been contaminated by the coaches and others in the Saints’ organization.”

In response, the NFL issued a statement which said:

“We respect Mr. Tagliabue’s decision, which underscores the due process afforded players in NFL disciplinary matters. This matter has now been reviewed by Commissioner (Roger) Goodell, two CBA grievance arbitrators, the CBA Appeals Panel, and Mr. (Tagliabue) as Commissioner Goodell’s designated appeals officer.

“… The decisions have made clear that the Saints operated a bounty program in violation of league rules for three years, that the program endangered player safety, and that the commissioner has the authority under the CBA to impose discipline for those actions as conduct detrimental to the league. Strong action was taken in this matter to protect player safety and ensure that bounties would be eliminated from football.”

Predictably, the NFLPA also issued a statement claiming victory, which rings closer to the truth than the NFL’s statement.

“We believe that when a fair due process takes place, a fair outcome is the result,” the statement said. “We are pleased that Paul Tagliabue, as the appointed hearings officer, agreed with the NFL Players Association that previously issued discipline was inappropriate in the matter of the alleged New Orleans Saints bounty program. Vacating all discipline affirms the players’ unwavering position that all allegations the League made about their alleged ‘intent-to-injure’ were utterly and completely false. We are happy for our members.”

While the NFL is seeking to put a face of victory on this news, Goodell knows that this is a blow to his status as Commissioner. Tagliabue seems to try and let Goodell off the hook, while also trying not to help Jonathen Vilma’s defamation case against Goodell, by blaming those within the Saints’ organization for corrupting the case, but in truth the “we were just following orders” defense rings hollow; the reason that player discipline had to be vacated was because the Commissioner’s office botched the case, and Goodell himself acted as though he was accountable to no one.

In the end, it seems fair to conclude that a strong message has still been sent to all 32 teams that bounties will result in serious disciplinary action against the organization and its staff. It also seems fair to conclude that Roger Goodell will not be allowed to act as the tyrant that he has been trying to be. If the owners are smart, they will force the Commissioner’s office to develop better systems for the conduct of investigations and disciplinary proceedings, while looking for a successor to a flawed and damaged Commissioner.

Nov 302012

Last night the New Orleans Saints fell to the Atlanta Falcons 23-13 in a hard fought contest. Brees had one of the worst (if not worst) performances of his career, throwing five interceptions in the loss. Brees also failed to throw a touchdown pass, the first time that has happened dating back to 2010, a span of 54 consecutive games, which broke the record held by Johnny Unitas. Last night Brees had one touchdown pass to Darren Sproles wiped out due to offensive pass interference by Jimmy Graham. Another toss for a touchdown was dropped in the end zone by Lance Moore.

The longest active streak for consecutive games with a touchdown pass now rests with Tom Brady of the New England Patriots, who has connected for touchdowns in each of his last 43 games, and Brady is set to pass Unitas’ mark in Week 17 if his streak continues. He could pass Brees’ record in Week 7 of the 2013 season. Brady already holds the record of 10 straight games with at least ten touchdown passes, a mark he set in 2007. No doubt Brady could care less about the record as long as the Patriots are winning games, but it certainly something that Patriots’ fans are taking note of.

Unitas held the record for an amazing 52 years before Brees broke it earlier this season. That is quite a testament to one of the all time great quarterbacks of the NFL.

Oct 092012

Commissioner Goodell has reaffirmed the suspension of four players for their connection to the bounty scandal in New Orleans. As noted on the NFL website, the decision is carefully crafted to focus on “conduct detrimental to football” and avoid any jurisdictional challenge from the players or from the NFL Player’s Association.

The complete release can be viewed here. Here is the shorter release, taken from the NFL website:

Discipline Reaffirmed for Four Players Suspended for Participation in Saints’ Bounty Program

Commissioner Roger Goodell reaffirmed the discipline for four players in the New Orleans Saints’ bounty matter today, but adjusted certain aspects of it following recent meetings with each of the players, the first time those players had agreed to speak directly to the NFL to give their side of the story.

In letters to each player and a memorandum to the clubs, Commissioner Goodell clarified that his decision was based entirely on his finding that the bounty program represented conduct detrimental to the league and professional football. The Saints’ bounty program operated over a three-year period and offered incentives to players for plays including “cart-offs” and “knock-outs,” which were plays that caused injuries to opponents.

The decision was made in response to the CBA Appeals Panel that asked Commissioner Goodell to make a redetermination of the discipline previously imposed on those players and clarify whether any of it was related to salary cap violations.
For decades, the commissioner of the NFL has been empowered, including in the Collective Bargaining Agreement with the players, to impose discipline on any individual employed by the NFL or its clubs that engages in specific conduct that he determines with due process to be conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the NFL. This responsibility was most recently affirmed in the 2011 CBA.

“The quality, specificity and scope of the evidence supporting the findings of conduct detrimental are far greater and more extensive than ordinarily available in such cases,” Goodell noted in a memorandum to the clubs.

“In my recent meetings with the players and their counsel, the players addressed the allegations and had an opportunity to tell their side of the story,” Goodell also wrote. “In those meetings, the players confirmed many of the key facts disclosed in our investigation, most particularly that the program offered cash rewards for ‘cart-offs,’ that players were encouraged to ‘crank up the John Deere tractor’ and have their opponents carted off the field, and that rewards were offered and paid for plays that resulted in opposing players having to leave the field of play.”

The NFL PA, of course, has already issued its response, stating “For more than six months, the NFL has ignored the facts, abused the process outlined in our collective bargaining agreement and failed to produce evidence that the players intended to injure anyone, ever. The only evidence that exists is the League’s gross violation of fair due process, transparency and impartiality during this process. Truth and fairness have been the casualties of the league’s refusal to admit that it might have made a mistake… We will review this decision thoroughly and review all options to protect our players’ rights with vigilance.”

Thus, here we go again. I have a distinct feeling this case will be dragging on even longer, and will get even uglier in a hurry.

Oct 012012

Last week we asked how many wins you expect the New Orleans Saints to tally this year. Most of those who voted (62%) thought the Saints would have an impressive recovery and bounce back to win as many as 9 games, but not make the playoffs. Personally, I’m with the contingent that thinks that the Saints will only pick up between 4-6 wins, given a porous defense and a less than adequate offensive line. The Saints are now down to 0-4, with a tough game coming up against the Chargers next Sunday night. One person thought the Saints would rebound to win at least 10 games and make the playoffs, and we’d like to thank Mr. Brees for taking our poll. :-)

Poll #7: How many games will the New Orleans Saints win this season?
7-9; they’ll recover, but not enough to make the post-season (62%, 13 Votes)
4-6; too many problems to be a competitive team (24%, 5 Votes)
0-3; this team is a mess (10%, 2 Votes)
10-13; Drew’s right – they are fine and will storm through the rest of the regular season (4%, 1 Votes)
Total Voters: 21

Poll #8: What is the biggest cause of the Jets’ current woes?
This week’s poll focuses back on the AFC East and the New York Jets. After scoring 48 points in Week One, the Jets have scored only 33 points in the subsequent three games for 81 total points. Their showing against the 49ers was abysmal, and they are without Darrelle Revis for the season and Santonio Holmes for the moment, while Mark Sanchez has looked every bit of the “yet another failed USC starter” in two ugly losses, and even in their win over the Dolphins. It’s no wonder Rex Ryan wants his team to stay away for a couple of days while he polishes up his resume…er… works with his coaches to correct the problems. So this week’s question is… what is the biggest cause for the Jets’ current woes?

Your choices:
– The Jets’ lack of a starting quarterback
– The offensive line
– The defensive line
– Poor coaching
– All of it; it’s a mess
– What are you talking about? The Jets are 2-2 and will be just fine

Please note that if you vote for Option #6 that we will assume your first name is either Mark, Tim, Rex, or Bart.

Jun 192012

Sometimes people just don’t know when to quit.

I think most football fans are just about sick of the Bountygate story and the continuing denials emerging from current and former members of the New Orleans Saints. It has already been established by Sean Pamphillon that Drew Brees, Scott Fujita and the NFLPA have worked together to seek to pin all of Bountygate on the coaches. Jonathan Vilma seems to have taken point on criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL, but Drew Brees has been sure to get his shots in where he can. Such was the case this Monday on Twitter, where Brees wrote, “If NFL fans were told there were “weapons of mass destruction” enough times, they’d believe it. But what happens when you don’t find any????”

Drew Brees is making the comparison of Bountygate to the falsified evidence used to justify the invasion of Iraq. Seriously.

Whether or not he believes the nonsense he is spewing, Brees is now elevating his hyperbole to a disturbingly alarming level. Where do we even begin to de-construct the myth that Brees is seeking to create?

Do we start with the ludicrousness of comparing a sports situation to a predetermined political decision by former President George W. Bush that resulted in an illegal invasion, the deaths of 4,409 American servicemen and women, and an estimated 109,000+ deaths overall? Does Drew really want to compare his alleged plight to the millions of people who had their lives ended or disrupted as a result of armed conflict? Really?

Even if you excuse Brees’ bravado, the pieces of information available to us prior to this week’s hearings as well as the information released yesterday simply do not support the idea that the players stand falsely accused. As I detailed on June 7,  the Saints had engaged in an historic use of bounties and had been repeatedly warned by the league to discontinue the practice. Players were documented as having contributed and receiving bounty money for various impact plays and a ledger was even found with proof of payouts to players. There is zero question that the Saints, over a long period of time (multiple seasons), maintained a pay for performance system that is explicitly forbidden under NFL rules. And the players were so brazen about the practice that in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Mike Hargrove (one of the players implicated in the scandal) can be heard running off the field shouting, “Pay me my money” after he believed that he had injured Brett Favre. Couple all of this with admissions from the New Orleans Saints and their coaches, and the assertions of Brees and others simply don’t add up. And that was before new evidence was released at the hearing yesterday.

To be sure, the NFL has entirely botched the release of supporting information. I am not sure where they are getting their advice on how to present a case, but they would be well served to take another approach. Although the NFL released only 200 pages of an estimated 500,000 page collection, much of the information released (according to Mike Florio at PFT) was in essence irrelevant. But a few key points were not, and Brees is not choosing to address these points because he knows damn well that it does not support his attempt to create a distraction to draw people’s eyes away from the facts of the case. But among the pieces of information released yesterday, we did learn that several players offered money to make plays on Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship Game, and that this included Jonathan Vilma offering $10,000 for anyone who could take Favre out of the game.

Other evidence? One document noted that Charles Grant offered $10,000 for a quarterback takeout pool, while Scott Fujita and Will Smith both contributed money to what was known as a “general pool.” Darren Sharper also contributed money for Pick-6’s and QB hits. Another document had Vilma, Smith, and Grant down for contributions, as well as Scott Shanle, Leigh Torrence, and Troy Evans. An even more disturbing document tallied “Kill the Head” (undefined) totals in 2010, with Vilma leading the way with 62 tallies. And another document recorded the awarding of $1,000 to Roman Harper for a “cart-off.”

Finally, a slide included in the NFL’s presentation contained a photo of “Dog the Bounty Hunter” with the notation “Must suspect be delivered dead or alive?” Even the NFLPA knew this piece of information looked bad, as they referenced the photo as “a poorly chosen and ironic example to use.” That’s putting it mildly.

It is with all of this information in hand that Drew Brees wants us to believe that the evidence against the players is no better than falsified information that led to an American war. Riiiight.

Until recently, I saw the Bountygate scandal as an unfortunate blemish on a touching, feel-good story for the Saints and the city of New Orleans. But it’s never the crime that does the real damage; instead it is always the cover up. And that is the case here as well. The continued proclamations of unfairness by the NFL made by Scott Fujita, Janathan Vilma, and Drew Brees have, at least for me, forever tarnished the accomplishments of the Saints franchise and their Super Bowl win. I will stop well short of calling for an asterisk like many unthinking fans will, but it is simply unforgivable in my view for the players to continue acting like six year old children standing over a broken lamp proclaiming, “I didn’t do it.” When pressed, the six year old insists they didn’t do it and that they don’t know who did… it might have been the dog or the lamp fairies. Well Mr. Brees, there are no lamp fairies. And just like the 6 year old who eventually admits their misdeeds, I rather suspect there will be a long delayed but inevitable admission on the part of some of the players involved. Just because you can fight a public relations battle with the National Football League doesn’t mean you should.

Now Mr. Brees, please shut up and go stand in the corner.

UPDATE: Brees has apparently figured out that the WMD analogy was not a good idea. Five hours ago, he sent the following tweets:

– My WMD comment has nothing to do with politics or our brave military. Merely an analogy to show how media influences public perception

– I apologize if the WMD comment offended anyone. Especially our military. There is no one I respect more than our service men and women

At least he realizes that his comment may have been offensive. However, the tweet really was not critical of the troops, but could instead be interpreted as being critical of the Bush administration and/or seeking to trivialize an event that led to the deaths of more than 100,000 people. In any event, Brees has once again proven the adage that it is better to be perceived as a fool versus opening one’s mouth (or Twitter account) and removing all doubt.

Jun 072012

I really enjoy Pro Football Talk (PFT). While most football blogs are nothing more than a mere regurgitation of  news items, PFT engages in thoughtful analysis and explores the implications of various situations and actions in the NFL. In some ways, PFT was a spark for our writers to pull together and create Gridiron Rats. We want to see more of a fan perspective, while also being thoughtful, analytical, and fun. But we will always tip our hat to Mike Florio for creating a wonderful site which has now become a part of NBC Sports.

Still, I sometimes think that Florio’s training as a lawyer can be his undoing. Early this morning, Florio posted an article suggesting that the most recent Bountygate report, involving the injury to Lions’ tackle Jeff Backus, might somehow undermine NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s assertion that the Saints used a pay for injury system. This was based on an earlier story on Yahoo! by Mike Silver noting that Sean Pamphilon had provided evidence of payments being made for clean hits in last year’s Saints wildcard playoff win over the Lions. The logic that Florio draws out is that because cash was paid for clean hits, but that no cash was paid out for an injury (torn biceps) to Backus, then the bounty system allegations are undermined because whoever injured Backus should have been paid.

Really, Mike?

Perhaps Florio is merely playing Devil’s Advocate, as his legal training has taught him to do. And that is certainly my hope. But in reading his site, I have sometimes found Florio’s logic to be more twisted than a carnival pretzel. So let’s help Mike remember why this most recent article does not undermine Goodell’s conclusions, and in this case I need look no further than one of the people who commented on Florio’s article.

Here is what we know about the Bounty allegations:

1. Roger Goodell and the NFL had warned the Saints not to use a bounty system on at least three occasions over a period of three years.

2. As recently as the 2011 system, the Saints were paying bounties despite those warnings.

3. Gregg Williams is on tape urging the infliction of injuries.

4. In the 2009 NFC Championship Game, Mike Hargrove (one of the players implicated in the scandal) can be heard running off the field shouting, “Pay me my money” after he believed that he had injured Brett Favre.

5. A ledger was discovered documenting payment to players. Additionally, Sean Pamphilon watched some of those payments being made.

6. Denials from players are carefully parsed. Players claim that they never paid money nor ever intended to pay money. But players are not alleging that they were never offered money.

7. The New Orleans Saints have acknowledged using a bounty system and apologies have been offered by both Gregg Williams and Sean Payton.

8. Early statements from players acknowledged a bounty system, but then were recanted as misquotes.

I work in an area where civil law applies, and I have had plenty of opportunities both to present cases and to rule on cases involving complicated fact patterns. Anyone familiar with the civil law system knows that it functions on the basis of a preponderance of the evidence, or what is more likely than not to be true (the 50.1% standard). In layman’s parlance, if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then we call it a duck.

This case is a damn duck.

The Jeff Backus injury is a red herring, and Florio (and others) should know this. According to Backus, a defensive player made a move to the inside and Backus hooked him, causing his bicep to pop. Thus, it was an accidental injury not caused by a Saints player. Exactly why would a payment be made? And then by extension, how would an absence of a payment undermine any of the information detailed above? I don’t need all eight of the points above to be able to conclude that it is far more likely than not that the Saints employed a bounty system. In truth, the first five are sufficient in my view to be able to reach a reasonable conclusion that such a system was being employed as late as last season. But #7 (the admission) is where this case becomes academic. Any protests of innocence by the players fall on deaf ears when the organization itself has admitted its misdeeds.

We therefore arrive back at my impatience and displeasure with current and former Saints’ players who try to deny the existence of the bounty system, as well as for all of the Saints fans who would prefer to deny evidence and simply conclude that the rest of the world is ‘hating on” the Saints. I have newsflash for those people. As a Patriots fan, I can appreciate the world ganging up on your team without a rational review of the evidence. Spygate was made out to be a “Patriots only” sin, when in fact the incident in question was a retaliation for earlier videotaping by the New York Jets, and was considered to be a widespread practice throughout the NFL. To call three Super Bowl championships into doubt as a result of Spygate is preposterous, and in my view is nothing more than hatred and jealousy being directed towards a successful organization. But I can never claim that the Patriots did not knowingly engage in a practice that they knew to be a violation of league rules, and it would be disingenuous for me to do so. Similarly, it is disingenuous of any current or former Saints’ player or any Saints fan to look at this evidence and suggest that no bounty system was employed.

Getting back to PFT, any suggestion that the failure to pay a bounty to the Saints defender who was involved on the play where Backus was injured is both illogical and unconnected to the rest of the facts in the case. I love reading Mike Florio’s work, but this one was a pretty bad reach and forgets the context of the overall case. I rather suspect that this is born of the frustration that the league has until now not come forward to make its case to the public, which would please many people, especially those of us who write about the NFL.

Perhaps, if this case were being tried in a criminal court, a conviction that the Saints employed a bounty system might not be forthcoming. Whether by some technical rule or by the opinion of one juror in twelve, it is not hard to imagine the organization or the players being cleared of wrongdoing in criminal court. But this is not criminal court, and the same rules do not apply here. And much to the displeasure of Saints players (and their attorneys), this case is quacking.

Jun 042012

The attorney for Jonathan Vilma thinks we’re all just being unfair.

When faced with damning evidence that his client paid up to $1000 for hits resulting in an opponent being carted off the field, Peter Ginsberg engages in a clumsy bit of rhetorical slight-of-hand. When required to say something that is a bald-faced lie:

“The truth is that Jonathan Vilma gave no money, incentive or encouragement ever — not at any time in his eight-year career — to injure or knock out of any game any player…”

It’s a simple matter to qualify said statement just enough to make it not a lie:

“…with a dirty or unsportsmanlike hit.”

This is, of course, entirely true. Vilma (and others on the Saints) are not accused of paying bounties for hits that are illegal; they are accused of paying bounties for hits that cause injury. Whether or not the hits were technically “legal” is beside the point. By the same token, this is a true statement:

“The truth is that O.J. Simpson did not kill his ex-wife and her friend…”

If you qualify it properly:

“…with a gun.”

Sadly, Yahoo! Sports goes along for the ride:

“According to STATS, LLC, Vilma has played in 42 games since 2009 and has been penalized three times in that span. Two-thirds of NFL defensive players who played in 40 or more games during that same period were penalized more than Vilma.”

Oh, well, that’s alright, then. A slightly better than average linebacker has committed slightly fewer than average penalties. Therefore, he couldn’t possibly have paid others for knocking opposing players out of games.

Seems legit.

May 222012


New Orleans Saints

Head Coach: Sean Payton (suspended)


Projected Starting Quarterback: Drew Brees

2011 Record:  13 wins, 3 losses (1st in NFC South)

1-1 in postseason (lost in Divisional round)

1st in Total Offense, 24th in Total Defense

2002-2011 10 year record: 90 wins, 70 losses (8th in NFL)

5 wins, 3 losses in postseason

1-0 in Super Bowl appearances

1-0 All-time in Super Bowl