I give you the RICHARD NIXON of the NFL…by Brad Eastland

March 25, 2012
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     The topic for this week’s column was easy to choose and easy to write about.   Your friendly neighborhood Sports Philosopher didn’t even have to think twice about it.

     The bounty scandal.

Nixon chats with a future voter at the Washington Senators' 1969 Opening Day, with Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (to the right of Nixon), Senators owner Bob Short and Nixon aide Jack Brennan (in uniform).

Nixon chats with a future voter at the Washington Senators' 1969 Opening Day, with Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn (to the right of Nixon), Senators owner Bob Short and Nixon aide Jack Brennan (in uniform).

     It’s quite a story.   A story involving virtually the entire New Orleans Saints organization trying to intentionally hurt players on other teams, targeting specific players (mainly quarterbacks), with coaches paying a “bounty” for any player that could knock another player out of the game.   There were extra bonuses awarded if the injured player was “carted” off.   Most of these ridiculous assassin-type bonuses were only in the $1,500-dollar range, but one Saints player is under investigation for offering $10,000 dollars of his own money to any of his teammates if he could injure Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre sufficiently that he would be carted off the field in the 2010 NFC Conference Championship game.   Favre was brutalized in that game.   No wonder.

     This story is beyond ugly.   Apparently, the Saints were doing this bounty thing for THREE YEARS.   This injure-for-pay scheme was the grotesque brainchild of one Gregg Williams, their since-departed Defensive Coordinator.   When the big suspensions finally came down last week Williams was suspended indefinitely by the league.   For at least a year.   Probably longer.   Possibly forever.   How do you think the St. Louis Rams—Williams’ new employer—feel about hiring the suddenly least-employable assistant coach in NFL history?

     Plus, the Saints were compelled to give up their 2nd-round picks in each of the next two annual college player drafts.   Ouch!

     The only thing that could make this whole thing worse was if the Saints’ head coach knew about it….

     ….Well, the head coach knew about it.   Sean Payton.   At first he said he didn’t know about it, but when presented with electronic (email) evidence that he discussed these horrific bounties with players, along with the testimony of former players squealing on him, he had to admit that, yes, he did.   He did know.   And he lied through his teeth.

     Sean Payton was suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season.   His unbelievable hubris not only cost the Saints two valuable draft picks, it also just cost him nearly SIX….MILLION….DOLLARS.    (And here I thought Lee Majors was the six million dollar man….)

     Payton had two choices when he first found out that his defensive coordinator and other assistant coaches were targeting opposing players to be maimed:   1.   Either fire Williams and his cohorts, blow the story wide open, and go public with it, or, 2.  Lie about his involvement to the Commissioner of the NFL and cover it up and hope no one ever found out.

     He chose to cover it up.

     And that makes Payton the National Football League equivalent of Richard Nixon.

     Watergate was a long time ago.   But if you’re at least in your 50s, you probably remember the details.   A bunch of goons supervised by a goon called G. Gordon Liddy broke into the Democratic National Committee Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel Complex in 1972 in order to put some illegal wiretaps on the phones, and when President Nixon found out about it, he had the same choice Payton had:  1. Fire the burglars, blow the story wide open, and go down in history as the president willing to do the honest, decent thing in order to protect the integrity of the office as well as uphold the law, even if blowing the story wide open might be, at first at least, a little embarrassing, or 2. Lie about his involvement to Congress and also agree to pay the burglars blackmail hush-money to try to cover it all up and then hope it would just go away.

     Nixon, a man famous for his infinite reservoirs of paranoia, naturally chose to cover it up.   Result?   Everybody found out, found out he lied for two years and that he had broken several federal laws, he soon lost all support in Congress, and, rather than be impeached, became the first and still only U.S. president to ever resign from office, thus stamping his presidency forever and for all time as a disgrace.   Well done, Dick.

     That’s the same legacy Sean Payton has to look forward to.   A couple years ago he was on top of the world, a Super Bowl winning coach, coach of “America’s Team”, the New Orleans Saints, saviors of their city after Hurricane Katrina, a man of great accomplishment and impeccable reputation.   But now?   He’s the only head coach ever suspended by the NFL for conduct unbecoming.   In fact he’s the only NFL head coach to ever be suspended by the NFL for any reason.

     In the case of each man, I ask the same question: How dumb can you be???

     Don’t forget, as creepy as he was and for all the jokes we make about him, Nixon, prior to Watergate, was on the verge of becoming a transcendently popular and successful president.   He was elected to that high office not once, but twice.   His reelection was a veritable landslide.   He’d opened the diplomatic door to Communist China.   He was bringing our boys home from Vietnam.   He established the Environmental Protection Agency, desegregated public schools, pioneered affirmative action, and endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment.   Quite a resume, huh?   Can you imagine if—rather than hushing Watergate up—he had decided to come clean, take a little embarrassment, and turn the scandal into an exercise in the honorable discharge of a Chief Executive’s oath of office???   Had he been smart enough to do that, I dare say that ol’ ski nose would have gone down as one of the towering figures of the 20th Century.

     Sean Payton?   Same thing.   The man had put together nearly a Hall of Fame coaching resume.   Had won a Super Bowl.   Had helped rescue and inspire a city without hope.   And had he been smart enough to not cover up an organized system of targeting and injuring opposing players, he might have eventually gone down as one of the coaching greats. 

     Gregg Williams is Sean Payton’s G. Gordon Liddy.   And Payton should have done to double-G Williams what Nixon should have done, and did not do, to G.G. Liddy.   Namely fire him, and expose him, immediately.   The minute he found out about the bounties, he should have stated to both the press and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, categorically and right from the get-go, that the New Orleans Saints are not in the business of intentionally injuring other players.   Had he done that, I believe he would have ultimately gone down as a hero, and his reputation would have remained largely intact.

     But like Nixon, he got scared, mean, greedy, and stupid all at once.   And the similarities don’t stop there.   Each was essentially guilty of obstruction of justice.   Each lied to everyone about his particular involvement in his particular scandal for a similar period of two years.   Each even had a famous catchphrase attached to his scandal.   Nixon, you may recall, told his henchmen to “stonewall” it.   Payton, similarly, said to his coaches, “Let’s make sure our ducks are in a row.”   And each man is, of course, a trailblazer: Nixon, the first president to resign, Payton, the first head coach to be suspended.   Each a disgrace.   A disgrace.   A disgrace. 

     Why did each man do what he did?   Or, more tellingly, how could each man do such a bad thing?   How could Nixon, the president of an entire nation by the good grace of the very people he served, intentionally commit felony crimes in office?   How could Payton, as a head coach, a man implicitly in charge of the welfare of other men, intentionally support an organized plan to feloniously attack and potentially maim other players in his league?   What if some after-the-whistle cheap shot on Cam Newton, Brett Favre or Kurt Warner (three men proven to be specific targets of the scheme) had resulted in a dead quarterback?

     I think, to be brutally frank, the answer lies in character.   Or rather lack of it.   Doing something so heinous, so awful, over a period of time, with one’s eyes wide open and with full calculated knowledge of what it means, reveals a stunning, deep-seated lack of character in a man.   There’s just no other way of saying it…. 

     In the end, the sad truth is that Sean Payton—like Nixon—got only a fraction of what he deserved.

     But take heart, coach.   Like Nixon himself, you managed to avoid the cold damp jail cell you did deserve.   And for the next year at least, the NFL won’t have Sean Payton to kick around anymore….


meet….The Sports Philosopher!image0023

Brad Eastland is an author, historian, film buff, undiscovered literary savant, and an unapologetic student of NFL stupidity.   Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’.   His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’.   Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.   

*To pick up a copy of his recently published novel of life at the racetrack, of triumph, and of utter despair, entitled WHERE GODS GAMBLE, a tale of American mythology, simply search for that title on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com.   And then order it.   And then READ it.   And then tell everyone about it.   And then read it again.   He thanks you.      







2 Responses to “I give you the RICHARD NIXON of the NFL…by Brad Eastland”

  1. Love your analogy. Hope all is well with you and yours.
    Sandym dandsi

  2. Love your analogy. Hope all is well with you and yours.

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