(Reuters) - New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees criticized National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday for his handling of the investigation into the team's cash-for-hits program.
The former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player felt Goodell lost credibility with NFL players and fans for doling out suspensions that were overturned after a nearly year-long process and that the league must be held accountable.
"If someone would just come out in the league office and admit, you know what, we could have handled this situation better, it would go such a long way with both players and fans," Brees said during his weekly news conference one day after bans to four players were overturned.
"I think people would really come around to realize what this thing was all about because right now the league office and Commissioner Goodell have very little to no credibility with us as players and I'd say with a lot of the fans because of the way that this has taken place."
Jonathan Vilma, Scott Fujita, Will Smith and Anthony Hargrove were suspended in May after an NFL investigation found them to have had leadership roles in a bounty program that gave players cash rewards for knocking opponents out of games from 2009-2011.
But the bans were overturned by former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who oversaw the appeals process.
Brees, who said he hated to sound like a "conspiracy theorist" felt that since Tagliabue was brought into the process to rule on the appeal, it had seemed very "staged," like, 'how do we get out of this mess?'"
The appeals process did not impact the suspensions to Saints coaches, including a season-long ban to head coach Sean Payton, or the fines and forfeited draft picks handed to the team, all of which Brees felt were too stiff.
For Brees, whose Saints went from division champions last season to one in danger of missing the playoffs for the 2012 campaign, it is all about accountability.
"Like I say, we are held to a very strict code, and that's enforced, as it should be, and we take pride in that as players," said Brees.
"I would just like to see them hold themselves to the same level of accountability and also I would love to see a full record of all the testimony from last week being put forth for players, coaches, fans, everybody to see. I think that would tell a lot of the true story about what's been going on this whole time."
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Frank Pingue)