In case you missed the story, those players suspended because they participated in a pay to injure scheme when they were on the New Orleans Saints during the 2009-2011 seasons were reinstated by an appeals panel. This means that Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith, and unsigned free agent Anthony Hargrove are all free to play in this Sunday's first games of the season.
Smith and Fujita are now with the Cleveland Browns. Vilma is still with the Saints, but unlikely to play due to injuries, and Hargrove does not have a team to go to yet. Vilma, who had been suspended for the whole season, and Fujita both celebrated the decision by tweeting about their happiness. Vilma said, "Victory is mine!" Of course, we do not know how long this party will last, but it is clear that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who instituted the suspensions, is not done with this case.
This ruling does not apply to New Orleans coaches Sean Payton and Joe Vitt or general manager Mickey Loomis. They were all involved in the bounty scandal, instigated by former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, which paid players for hits on opposing players, especially those that injured them. While injuries have always been part of the NFL, those inflicted purposely and with an intent to hurt other players seem incredulously criminal to say the least. If this were happening on a street instead of the gridiron, those perpetrators surely would have landed in jail.
In light of the growing evidence that NFL players are three more times likely to suffer from brain disease and die from it, and with the spectre of suicides by players like Dave Duerson and Junior Seau likely connected to brain injuries, the concern for players and protecting them, especially from blows to the head, is not only reasonable but essential. Yet in a game that is a metaphor for war and is played for keeps, how do we stop a culture of violence, no matter how regulated we may want it to be?