In March, two Minnesota Vikings players -- punter Chris Kluwe and center John Sullivan -- called for the NFL to suspend New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma for his role in the Saints' bounty program prior to the 2009 NFC Championship Game. At the time, we noted a developing and awkward dynamic: NFL Players Association (NFLPA) members advocating against their union brethren.
Sullivan, in fact, went so far as to say: "As a union member, I'll be very upset if we come to the defense of these acts. They're indefensible. You can't defend them. It's despicable, has no place in the sport."
Vilma, whom the NFL said offered a $10,000 reward for any player who knocked then-Vikings quarterback Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC Championship Game, received a one-year suspension. We haven't yet heard from Sullivan, but Kluwe said via Twitter that the suspension is "just."
Kluwe also provided an extended and nuanced analysis of the what he called a "tough spot" for the NFLPA, which has already pledged to "vigorously protect" Vilma and the three other suspended players and "pursue all options on their behalf."
Here's what Kluwe tweeted:
"Vilma and the others deserve the right to an appeal; while I agree with the commissioner's decision others may not, and that's fine, this is America. However, the union has to simultaneously balance defending four guys against the judgment, of [Roger] Goodell (which needs oversight, make no mistake) while at the same time recognizing those four guys were attempting to harm other union members, who also deserve that same protection. The union cannot be just about appeals when someone does something wrong. It also has to be a shield for those men who are a part of it that you never hear about, but pay the same dues and play the same game. I can only hope that the leadership of the NFLPA realizes this, and acts in *all* of its members' interests, however that takes place."
I find this a fascinating, if subtle, subplot of this story. The NFLPA argues the NFL hasn't provided evidence of its accusations, but obviously there are at least some players -- and union members -- who are convinced otherwise. By definition, players engaging in a bounty system are trying to harm other players. Why isn't the union jumping to the defense of the targeted players, which according to the league includes Favre, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner and Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton?
I realize this is a tough day in the NFL for a lot of reasons. I just think this issue merits some discussion along with everything else. The story has thus far centered around the aggressors. What about the victims?