Senator sees Goodell, calls off bounty hearing
WASHINGTON—A high-ranking senator is calling off a proposed hearing on bounties in professional sports because he is satisfied with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's response to the issue, including setting up an anonymous hotline.
Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, met with Goodell on Wednesday. The meeting came about three months after Durbin first said he wanted Congress to examine whether federal law should make it a crime to have a bounty system such as the one the NFL says the New Orleans Saints ran from 2009-11.
"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."
Among the steps that persuaded Durbin to abandon a hearing: Posters will be put in locker rooms about bounties and will include information for a hotline so players can report bounty-related activity, and there will be a new bounty section in the players' handbook.
Goodell will also write a letter to all league and team employees and an email to registered NFL fans regarding bounties. And a bounties section will be part of the new NFL Players Handbook, which is given to each NFL player.
"The results that we've come up with in 90 days are better than anything we could have achieved with a congressional hearing, the markup of a bill, an amendment on the floor and everything that might have followed," Durbin said.
The NFL Players Association, in a written statement, called for a hearing.
"We thank the Senator for his interest on these important issues. Given this keen interest, the players hope and expect that the Commissioner and the Senator will commit to a hearing on health and safety in the NFL in the near future," the statement said.
Though the process didn't escalate to a hearing, Durbin's and Goodell's involvement drew criticism from a fellow senator.
"Senator Durbin and Roger Goodell both have more pressing matters than this public relations stunt," Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) said in a statement.
Durbin defended his role.
"Some people question, `Well, what does Congress have to do with this?'" Durbin said. "It's a federal crime to bribe somebody to influence the outcome of a professional sporting event. This bounty program is as close to bribery to influence the outcome of an event as I can think of."
Durbin was asked whether the NFL had taken substantial enough steps to warrant not having a hearing.
"Unlike many issues that come before us, this issue was discovered by the NFL. The investigation was initiated by the NFL. And the actions that were taken against coaches and players was taken by the NFL," Durbin said. "There was no denial here."
Said Goodell: "We will continue to work with the Senator and his office. We will continue to evaluate our policies at every step. . We give the Senator our assurance on that, my personal assurance that I will do that."
Goodell's handling of bounty-related suspension has drawn criticism from the NFLPA, which has cited a lack of due process and fairness.
"I have no place to judge the process," said Durbin, who noted he spoke with many players, former players and coaches.
Durbin said NCAA president Mark Emmert also came to Washington to discuss the issue, and the NCAA will set up an anonymous phone number to report bounty programs.
"Today's announcement by the NFL, and further activities with the NCAA and other leagues in the future, will help ensure that bounties are finished in football," Durbin said. "The NFL's players are protected, and its audiences can know the game will be played fairly, honestly and safely."