Members of the New Orleans Saints affected by the harsh sanctions of Bountygate three years ago were glad to see NFL commissioner Roger Goodell take another hit on Thursday when the NFL's four-game suspension of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was vacated in federal court.
And they'd like to see it lead to a change in the way Goodell is allowed to dole out punishment going forward.
"The league office has to change their ways because [the] public is tired of it as well," said former Saints linebacker Scott Shanle, who was critical of both Goodell and the NFL Players Association for allowing the commissioner to have so much power.
"He rules with [an] iron fist because the players union allowed him to be the czar in punishments. Players union is to blame more than anyone else," Shanle said via text. "He is an arrogant individual who has been allowed to do it since he became [commissioner].
"Finally a court and judge are the players' voice of reason when dealing with him. Everyone finds out how corrupt the NFL is in every case with lack of evidence and shady tactics when it comes time to prove evidence."
Former Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, who was originally suspended for a full year by Goodell during Bountygate before his suspension was vacated through a lengthy appeals process, had a much more succinct reaction on Twitter, using a common Internet slang term after someone suggested he must be smiling.
Former Saints linebacker Scott Fujita, who had his own three-game Bounty suspension overturned in 2012, was more subdued.
All players: Pay attention to what's transpired. Respect Brady for his fortitude. And appreciate your Union's focus on fairness & process.— Scott Fujita (@sfujita55) September 3, 2015
No need to gloat or rub in anyone's face. It's abt PROCESS, & it matters. Here's hoping there can be a JOINT effort to improve this PROCESS.— Scott Fujita (@sfujita55) September 3, 2015
So many lessons over these past few years. Hopefully something's been learned, by players & league alike. Let's just do better.— Scott Fujita (@sfujita55) September 3, 2015
The Saints had no immediate response to Thursday's ruling. Coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis, who both served lengthy suspensions as part of the Bountygate scandal after team officials did not fight their punishments in court, have offered little comment throughout Brady's fight against the NFL. They have offered subtle hints of their interest in seeing a change in how the league operates, though.
"Just seems like there's been a lot of time, a lot of energy and all that spent on ... shoot, for the last nine years, beginning with StarCaps, and it's just gone on and on and on," Payton said earlier this summer, referencing another legal battle that dragged on for years regarding player suspensions over a banned diuretic.
Deflategate and Bountygate share some similarities in that the player suspensions were eventually overturned after the federal courts got involved.
In Bountygate, the four Saints players who were originally suspended for allegedly taking part in a pay-for-injury scheme (Vilma, Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove) eventually pressured Goodell into recusing himself as the person in charge of deciding on their appeals. He brought in former commissioner Paul Tagliabue instead, and Tagliabue wound up vacating all of the suspensions -- citing a lack of clear evidence and precedent for such harsh discipline in most cases.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman cited some of those same factors in his decision on Brady's suspension Thursday -- and he referenced Tagliabue's Bountygate ruling several times in his 40-page decision.
Berman quoted Tagliabue as saying, "Rightly or wrongly, a sharp change in sanctions or discipline can often be seen as arbitrary and as an impediment rather than an instrument of change."
Berman also quoted Tagliabue as saying, "There is no evidence of a record of past suspensions based purely on obstructing a League investigation. In my forty years of association with the NFL, I am aware of many instances of denials in disciplinary proceedings that proved to be false, but I cannot recall any suspension for such fabrication."