The release of this audio recording raises numerous issues. Williams' career was already in serious jeopardy prior to the release of this recording, but now, he is virtually un-employable. His rhetoric and tone exceed that which would be considered normal locker room speak, and leaves little doubt that bounties were indeed taking place. Williams called for specific injuries to numerous San Francisco players, even suggesting players should attempt to go for the head of concussion-prone wide receiver Kyle Williams. With the multitude of lawsuits already filed against the NFL related to concussion issues, this is pretty damning for Williams, the Saints, and the League as a whole. It is possible, and perhaps even likely, that Commissioner Goodell could turn Williams' current indefinite suspension into a lifetime ban. It seems as though Goodell has ample evidence to do so at this point, and he may need to take such a step to remain consistent with the NFL's present crusade in support of player safety.
To that end, Goodell clearly has authority to discipline Williams, consistent with the NFL's Standard of Conduct:
Standard of Conduct
While criminal activity is clearly outside the scope of permissible conduct, and persons who engage in criminal activity will be subject to discipline, the standard of conduct for persons employed in the NFL is considerably higher. It is not enough simply to avoid being found guilty of a crime.
Discipline may be imposed in any of the following circumstances:
- Conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and well being of another person; and
- Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players.
It will also be interesting to see if this audio recording affects the ongoing appeal of Head Coach Sean Payton. Payton's chances of succeeding on appeal of his year-long suspension were probably slim before this recording, but in light of the public outcry, it seems certain that Goodell will uphold Payton's suspension. If Payton was in the room during this speech (it appears that he was not at this point), and knew of the bounties (which he has admitted), he had a duty to report Williams and others involved, even if he did not partake in the scheme himself. Goodell can fall back on the NFL's Standard of Conduct in this regard as well:
Reporting of Incidents: The League must be advised promptly of any incident that may be a violation of this policy, and particularly when any conduct results in an arrest or other criminal charge. Players and club employees must report any such incident to the club, which must then report it to NFL Security at (800) NFL-1099. Failure to report an incident will constitute conduct detrimental and will be taken into consideration in making disciplinary determination under this policy. Clubs are also required to report incidents that come to their attention.
Another interesting issue that could trigger litigation is the fact that this audio recording was allegedly not authorized for release. This recording was captured during filmmaker Sean Pamphilon's work on an ESPN documentary entitled, "Run Ricky Run," which chronicled former Saints player Steve Gleason's fight with Lou Gehrig's disease. However, Gleason, who expressed regret and disappointment over the release of the recording, apparently owns the rights to all recordings compiled during the filming. Gleason conceivably could bring an action against Pamphilon for the unauthorized release, though it could be difficult for Gleason to prove damages, given the circumstances.