NFL keeps bounty scandal behind closed doors
Hearings in the NFL bounty probe were held in Washington last week, but not the kind of hearings we should have seen take place.
Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was appointed to oversee the appeals of the New Orleans Saints players suspended for their roles in the Saints bounty case -- paying players to injure opponents.
The alleged mastermind of the bounty program, former Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, was in Washington to testify before Tagliabue, as were others involved in the scandal.
These hearings, though, took place behind closed doors -- out of the light that would likely be so damaging for all involved -- accusers and accused alike.
That wasn't supposed to be the case. In March, Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin declared his intention to hold hearings on the NFL bounty scandal. The proposed hearings were supposed to include the NBA, NCAA and Major League Baseball, in a more encompassing discussion about concussions and sports.
But it was clear that Sen. Durbin's target was the NFL.
"Let's be real basic about it here. If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought [about whether it's wrong]. 'You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?'?" Durbin said in a telephone interview before raising the issue on the floor of the Senate.
"It goes way beyond the rules of any sporting contest, at least team contest, to intentionally inflict harm on another person for a financial reward," he said.
Durbin stated that the NFL must "come up with standards to make sure this isn't going to happen again," he said. Otherwise, lawmakers will need to "at least explore whether it is necessary to have federal legislation in this area."
He proposed the possibility of extending federal sports bribery laws to cover bounties, so that "if someone offers in a team sports situation some sort of value, money or otherwise, to intentionally hurt another player, that, in fact, would be a crime."
Three months later, after a private meeting with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell -- poof, no hearings.
"What I hear from them now is, it's going to be clear: The actions that have been taken against some are going to be taken against others if they violate these basic rules that are being established," Durbin said. "What more could I accomplish with a law? This is better."
Here is what else is better: Three months later, in September, the NFL announced it was donating a record $30 million to the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health -- an organization created by Congress to raise private funds and create public-private partnerships to support the National Institute for Health -- for research into concussion injuries.
Durbin is an influential member of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies, which oversee NIH, and has been a major NIH supporter in Congress.
And so here we are in December with Gregg Williams finally in Washington to testify the way the NFL likes it -- behind closed doors.