NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has reinstated New Orleans Saints Coach Sean Payton, whom he had suspended for the season in connection with his role in the Saints’ bounty program.
Payton’s suspension originally was expected to end after the Feb. 3 Super Bowl, but Goodell met with Payton on Monday and announced his decision today in a statement:
“We had a very productive discussion. Sean fully complied with all the requirements imposed on him during his suspension. More important, it is clear that Sean understands and accepts his responsibilities as a head coach and the vital role that coaches play in promoting player safety and setting an example for how the game should be played at all levels. We are committed to delivering football that fans love and the safety players deserve. Coach Payton agrees and I look forward to working with him going forward to do that.”
Payton can now attend the Senior Bowl this week and resume duties as coach of the Saints after serving 281 days of his suspension.
“I am thankful today Commissioner Goodell has granted me reinstatement,” Payton said in a statement. “As I stated back in March, ‘I, along with Mickey Loomis, take full responsibility for all aspects of our football program.’ I clearly recognize that mistakes were made, which led to league violations.
“Furthermore, I have assured the Commissioner a more diligent protocol will be followed. Lastly, I feel we have learned from our mistakes and are ready to move forward. I want to thank our owner, Mr. Benson and all of our great fans for the overwhelming support throughout this past year. I am excited to be back as Head Coach of the New Orleans Saints!”
The move comes less than two weeks before Super Bowl XLVII lands in New Orleans, where Goodell has been extremely unpopular since he dished out punishments to Saints coaches and players in the scandal last spring. T-shirts bearing the words “Free Sean Payton” and “Go to hell, Goodell” were tremendously popular and were sported all around town. The Big Easy wasn’t going to be an easy place for Goodell, despite the role he played in keeping the Saints in the city after Hurricane Katrine, to spend the week leading up to the big game.
“There’s a lot of angry cats down here,” jazz musician Kermit Ruffins told the New York Times, “and I’m thinking most folks don’t have a problem letting someone know how they feel.”
James Carville, the political consultant and proud Cajun, was asked what advice he’d give Goodell on restaurant reservations.
“Something with a back room?” he said with a laugh. “Or room service.”