Probing Roger Goodell on lifetime bans

PALM BEACH, Fla. -- To this point, we've heard from two Minnesota Vikings players who want the NFL to impose a lifetime ban on New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for his role in the team's bounty program.

That sounds harsh, but so was the unprecedented discipline commissioner Roger Goodell levied against the team and coach Sean Payton last week. So on Monday, I took advantage of our access here at the NFL owners meetings to ask Goodell about it. Is a lifetime ban even on the table as a possible sanction against a player found to have participated in the program?

Goodell didn't dismiss the idea out of hand, but he also reiterated he is awaiting a recommendation from the NFL Players Association before making an announcement.

"I haven't focused on that," Goodell said. "I'd like, before I make any decisions, to hear from the players. I've heard from dozens of players already. I obviously listen to them and respect their opinions and I would like to hear from the NFL Players Association before I make any decision."

According to the public version of the NFL's report, Vilma offered $10,000 to any Saints player who knocked Vikings quarterback Brett Favre from the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Last week, Vikings punter Chris Kluwe said: "Football is violent enough as it is. It's hard enough to stay healthy in the league and so by maliciously trying to hurt people they need to show, we need to show, that there's no place in the game for that kind of behavior."

The next day, center John Sullivan said: "[T]he guys that went after it in the wrong way, that's the exact opposite of sportsmanship. It's just disgusting. To think that you're going to take money to hit someone illegally and hurt them out of the game, I can't even fathom that somebody would do that."

The NFLPA will be monitored closely in this instance. Typically speaking, unions work to protect their members. But who should the NFLPA protect in this case? The Saints players who Goodell wants to punish? Or the players (and their teammates) that were targeted? It's fair to say there is a split among players on this issue.

Goodell said he hoped to hear from the NFLPA by the end of the week, probably pushing back an announcement on player discipline to next week. Stay tuned.