After weeks of speculation over whether the NFL would take a hard line against future Hall of Famer and legendary iron man Brett Favre over allegations of sexual harrassment during his one season with the New York Jets, the league finally fined Favre $50,000 … for a failure to cooperate with the investigation.  In the end, literally in this case, the NFL decided to punt on making a determination whether Favre committed the actions alleged by Jenn Sterger.  Instead of sacking one of its marquee players before the end of his final season, the NFL allowed the clock to run out and let Favre remain eligible to play in one final game:

The ruling came days before what could be the final game for the three-time MVP. He’ll start for Minnesota at Detroit on Sunday if he’s recovered from a concussion sustained Dec. 20 against Chicago, and has said this will be his final season, though he’s unretired in the past. He made the declaration even before his NFL record for consecutive starts was snapped at 297 in mid-December.

It’s been a tough season on the field for Favre and his Vikings, and by the league’s own admission, the investigation begun in early October has generated plenty of bad publicity for all the parties involved — Favre, Sterger and the NFL itself.

Yet commissioner Roger Goodell “could not conclude” that Favre violated the league’s personal conduct policy based on the evidence currently available to him, the league said in a statement announcing the fine.

Forensic analysis failed to establish that Favre sent the objectionable photographs to Sterger, the league said.

Favre’s punishment stems from Goodell’s determination that he was “not candid in several respects during the investigation resulting in a longer review and additional negative public attention for Favre, Sterger and the NFL,” the league said. The commissioner also told Favre that if he had found a violation of the league’s workplace conduct policies, he would have imposed a “substantially higher level of discipline.”

In other words, Favre lied at some point, or hid some information that the league later discovered.  Goodell had promised a ruling before the end of the season in order to retain some ability to punish Favre, who will almost certainly remain retired after taking a beating in his 20th season in the NFL.  The punishment in this case amounts to about the same level given for a repeat offender on helmet-to-helmet hits on a defenseless receiver or QB — ironic, in this case, because Favre has not yet passed the first level of tests necessary to return on Sunday from a concussion suffered on a clean hit from a Chicago Bears pass rush.  And perhaps that’s even doubly ironic, since Goodell approved the use of the frozen field at TCF Bank Stadium two weeks ago after spending the season handing out fines to protect players from ferocious hits and concussions.

Did the NFL make the right decision?  If the league honestly couldn’t determine whether Favre sent a picture of his own genitalia to Sterger, then perhaps so.  However, since Sterger is almost certain to sue Favre, the Jets, and the league, Goodell had better hope that his “forensic analysis” actually did fail, rather than succeed in finding exactly what the league wanted to find — nothing.  Obviously, though, the NFL didn’t consider the use of the Beulah Balbricker investigatory method (mildly NFSW):

So far, most observers are less than impressed with the league’s response, such as Pete Prisco at CBS (via The Week)

You know what this smells like to me: A league allowing a star to walk off into the sunset without a black mark on his resume.

They gave him a pass.

Did we expect any different? There is one week left in his career. What’s the point of suspending him now? All that would do is tarnish his legacy. Who needs a creep showing up for Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions?

Would a creep play as an NFL analyst, which Favre is almost certain to do.

The NFL found no wrongdoing.

Want to bet Mrs. Favre didn’t see it the same way?

The analyst job may or may not materialize; given the almost-certain lawsuit, it’s doubtful whether anyone will feel comfortable hiring Favre, at least until the case is settled or adjudicated.  If a settlement is reached, don’t bet that the terms will allow for any comment on the allegations — or the money involved.  Favre will likely pay a premium to protect his long-term ability to earn.  Besides, Sterger has been patient with the NFL; she could have just bypassed the league and taken Favre directly into court.  She may want this settled as soon as possible now so she can get on with her life as well.

Sean Gregory at Time wants the NFL to continue its investigation:

If the league really thinks Favre did not send Sterger the pictures, it should just say so. As it stands, the NFL sounds like a judge or jury telling a defendant: “Hey, we can’t say you committed that crime since you’re not being honest. So you’re out of jail. But since you’re not being honest, we have to slap you with a little fine. Is that OK?”

And if the NFL is truly upset about Favre lying to an employer during a workplace harassment investigation – a fireable offense at many, if not most, companies – why not hit him with a more serious fine? A $50,000 punishment is pennies for Favre, who is reportedly making $16.5 million for his mediocre play this season. What kind of message is the NFL sending?

Many fans were hoping that the NFL’s statement would put the whole Favre-Sterger mess behind us. The tabloid affair has long grown tiresome. After this less than forthcoming conclusion about a serious issue, however, this story shouldn’t be sealed. We need more answers.

Unless Favre wants to coach, what would be the point of continuing an investigation into an ex-employee?  Quite obviously, the NFL wants this to end with the season.  As far as lying or covering up information, it’s probably true that Favre’s contract would allow the league to fire him for it.  Will they then fire everyone who covers up steroid use, too?  Illegal drug use?  That won’t happen either, especially in a league where a star defensive player on a playoff team this year had to plead guilty to obstruction of justice in a murder investigation in 2000 and got a $250,000 fine from the league — and no suspension.

What do you think?  Did Favre get sacked, or did the league let him off the hook?  Take the poll … er, no pun intended: