We noted Thursday that Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe wants the NFL to ban New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for life after his reported role in the team's bounty program prior to the 2009 NFC Championship Game. Kluwe is no stranger to bold public statements, but he has now been joined by a far more conservative teammate.
Center John Sullivan, who was a first-year starter on that 2009 team, told KFAN-1130 that he agreed with Kluwe's assessment and also wants to see the NFL penalize two other former Saints: Safety Darren Sharper and defensive end Bobby McCray. In an impassioned but nuanced argument, Sullivan questioned the meat behind the in-season suspension of Saints general manager Mickey Loomis -- "seems like it would be more effective as a punishment during the draft," he said -- and broached the sensitive topic of how the NFL Players Association should proceed.
Most importantly, Sullivan made clear he thinks the Saints were playing to hurt quarterback Brett Favre in that game.
"If you want to offer money to knock somebody out of a game on a clean hit, fine," Sullivan said. "But the 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."
Sullivan cited a number of instances, starting with McCray's hit on Favre after a second-quarter handoff. McCray was penalized 15 yards and ultimately fined $25,000 by the NFL. He implied that at least one of Sharper's two hits on Favre were illegal and said that, although neither Sharper nor McCray are in the NFL anymore, they can still be disciplined in a meaningful way.
"I really think if you go back and look at that game, anybody who took a shot at Brett illegally and you can see with the intention of trying to injury him [should be banned]," Sullivan said. "And the big two that come to mind are Sharper and Bobby McCray. They've got to do something to those guys, too, whether it's no Hall of Fame [or] you're not allowed to be associated with the NFL anymore. I have a hard time talking about it. It just disgusts me that you would go out there and try to hurt somebody and take away their livelihood. It' s just gross."
The NFL's investigation has dredged up some obvious animosity from Vikings players who participated in the game. We know now that team officials complained to the league days after the game, and whether or not there was a bounty, there has obviously been a feeling for some time that the Saints crossed the line many times. McCray grabbed Favre's ankle during a high-low hit that caused both an interception and an injury, and defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove was also called for a 15-yard penalty following a hit on Favre.
(Hargrove has denied his hit was motivated by a bounty).
Clearly, those who remain from that game are repulsed by the backdrop of the Saints' bounty system. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is working with the NFL Players Association to determine a punishment for the players involved, and Sullivan threw down the gauntlet Friday should union officials be conflicted.
"As a union member, I'll be very upset if we come to the defense of these acts," he said. "They're indefensible. You can't defend them. It's despicable, has no place in the sport."
Will the strong sentiments of Sullivan and Kluwe sway Goodell one way or the other? It's doubtful. But this unprecedented story has brought us a rarely, if ever, seen development: Multiple NFL players calling for the ouster from their brethren. Strange days indeed.