2012 Commentary: Whistle Blower in the New Orleans Saints Scandal Made the Right Decision

Abstract: NFL teams have the right to ensure that players and coaches keep some things secret. However, this article asserts that this right does not extend to prohibiting players from speaking out if they see something illegal occur.

Superdome in Green in the Rain (1)
Yesterday, Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner, handed out fines and suspensions to several individuals who were involved with the New Orleans Saints' bounty program, which was in place from at least 2009-2011. In this scheme, members of the Saints' coaching staff paid their defensive players for injuring opposing teams' athletes. As CNN notes, Goodell's punishment was harsh; among other things, he levied a one year suspension on Sean Peyton, the Saints' current head coach, and indefinitely suspended New Orleans' ex-defensive coordinator, Gregg Williams. The NFL is not necessarily finished meting out punishment yet; it may also try to penalize the players who were involved in the bounty program.

Most people likely concur in the belief that the New Orleans Saints' coaches and players were wrong to condone a bounty system. However, they disagree on whether or not a player has the right to tell the authorities or the public if his teammates commit patently unethical or illegal acts like the one perpetuated by the Saints. A Yahoo! Sports article suggests that players have an obligation to keep anything done by their clubs, even illegal acts, in-house. It implies that a team is like a family, and a brother should not rat out a fellow sibling. By contrast, a piece in the Huffington Post condemns this "inner culture of secrecy" and blames it for perpetuating a philosophy that will tolerate everything from the Saints' bounty program to the sexual harassment of children.

Both sides make valid points. Professional football is a team sport and to be successful, teammates must be willing to cooperate fully with each other and with their coaches. Organizations like the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers would have never have won the Super Bowl multiple times if their football players did not buy into the team concept. At the same time, a football squad has a right to ask that its players and coaches do not divulge proprietary information found in its playbooks and discussed in personnel meetings.

The easiest way for a football program to achieve these goals is to foster a familial culture that discourages (and sometimes even punishes) players who fail to follow orders or who publicly disclose a fellow teammate's personal foibles. However, these types of societies can become too oppressive. As such, every NFL player has the right, and even the responsibility, to speak out when a fellow team member or a coach commits a patently unethical act. The person who informed the league about the Saints' bounty system did the right thing. He helped to rid the NFL of an illegal process that undermined the league's commitment to player safety.

Every NFL program needs to ensure that players keep some things secret. However, no team should foster a culture that is so oppressive; it prohibits athletes from speaking out when a teammate (or even the whole squad) commits a patently unethical or illegal act.

1. Photographer: Shashi Bellamkonda
    Date: September 30, 2012
    Title/Description: View from my window - Superdome in Green in the Rain. New colored lights illuminate
    the Superdome at night.
    Location/Permission: Wikimedia Commons - Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license
    (click on the title/link to view the photo, credits, and permissions).

-- Anthony Hopper

#sports #football #legal #ethics #opinion #NFL #Saints

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