Saints head coach Sean Payton will begin serving his one year suspension handed down from Roger Goodell beginning April 1st. While Payton will be exiled from his coaching duties, could he possibly look elsewhere to stay connected with the NFL? Would television come calling for the now disgraced head coach? Within Judy Battista’s New York Times article on the Saints moving on without Payton was this interesting nugget. It seems only one network, Fox, is interested in giving Sean Payton a temporary home…
Payton will lose at least $6 million in salary from the Saints and could seek work elsewhere, perhaps in television. On Friday, representatives for ESPN, NBC and CBS indicated that they had no plans to hire him. But Fox Sports, which carries N.F.C. games during the season, is open to the possibility. “Our feeling about Sean is that he’s bright, articulate and obviously contemporary,” said Lou D’Ermilio, Fox’s senior vice president for communications. “Any network with N.F.L. rights would have to consider it.”
Fox would make sense as a landing place for Sean Payton as they carry NFC games and Payton would be very familiar with most of the talent. Having an intelligent, contemporary voice to provide analysis provides extra insight for viewers (see Shaka Smart last week on TBS’s NCAA coverage or Terry Francona in last year’s ALCS). Clearly, from a purely analytical perspective, Payton would be a home run addition either in the booth or the studio for any network. We’re talking about a Super Bowl winning head coach who is arguably one of the five best coaches in the league right now… but then there’s that messy bounty situation…
Payton’s approval rating and public image is hovering somewhere between Skip Bayless and Congress at the moment. If Fox is willing to bring Sean Payton on air, the network would have to face tough questions about bringing someone aboard that was involved in a violent scandal that put the game of football in a very negative light. However, by the time Week 1 rolls around in September, Payton’s public image will likely be much better than the immediate days following his suspension. Time heals all wounds and most fans will be more caught up in their own team than fixing their ire towards Payton.
Given the harshness of his year long suspension, he may even turn into a sympathetic figure once the season actually rolls around. For now though, he’s going to toe the company line and be a good soldier for Roger Goodell and the NFL will move on as quickly as possible to prove (rightly or not) that they are trying to do everything they can to further their interest in player safety. The NFL is going to do everything they can to present a united front in moving past this story at all costs. And perhaps, that may mean Sean Payton not only disappearing from the sidelines, but disappearing from any association with the NFL for the next year.
Ask yourself, where are the limits of Sean Payton’s punishment at the hands of the bounty scandal? It’s hard to believe that he is so toxic that all the NFL networks would stay away from Payton during his suspension. What happened in New Orleans was bad, but given what kinds of things athletes and sports figures have come back from off the field, the odds favor Payton will eventually recover in the public eye. Payton joining Fox this year would do good on multiple fronts. It would drastically help Payton improve his image quickly if he’s conciliatory and engaging on television. It would help Fox by giving them someone smart that can talk football (which would be a milestone itself). But, would it help the NFL in their eternal quest to “protect the shield”?
Would Roger Goodell strong arm the league’s television partners into blackballing Payton while he serves his suspension? At least publicly, the league is saying no…
The league responded in a statement: “He is suspended from the N.F.L. for the season. His involvement in any non-N.F.L. employment or business matters is not our decision.”
Sure, it’s not the NFL’s decision, but it sure as hell isn’t outside the NFL’s sphere of influence. Considering Roger Goodell has as much power as Sacha Baron Cohen’s new movie character, he could easily send Fox the message that he doesn’t want Sean Payton near the NFL until after the 2012 season is over. And, given Goodell’s history and immense power, his preventing Sean Payton from appearing on air would be the least surprising potential development of the bounty scandal. After all, ESPN, the network of 10,000 analysts, couldn’t wait to publicly distance themselves from even touching Payton during his suspension. Don’t forget it was Paul Tagliabue that put the kabosh on Playmakers because of concerns over what it would do to the NFL’s image long ago. And from everything we’ve been told, this Saints bounty scandal is the worst thing to afflict the league’s image in recent memory.
Fox didn’t say they were purusing Payton, just that it would be considered. Perhaps the “Payton to Fox” hype has been overplayed and Fox was just trying to be complimentary to the coach. But, Payton joining FOX for the next year seems to be a win-win situation for both the network and the coach, even if it would initially cause some controversy. In the end though, it would be shocking if Goodell doesn’t pull the Playmakers card once again to blackball Payton in the ultimate interest of protecting the shield.