The Commerce Journal

March 9, 2012

Reaction to NFL bounty scandal often misses point

Caleb Slinkard
The Commerce Journal

Commerce — Perhaps you’ve heard the news about a “bounty” program that former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and Saints defensive players participated in.

If you haven’t, or you don’t really care about professional football, here’s a basic recap: Saints defensive players were paid money from a bounty pool of up to $50,000 for knocking players out of games or injuring them.

According to a report by ESPN, players received $1,500 for knockouts and $1,000 for players being carted-off the field.

Theses bonuses were given out by Gregg Williams, with the knowledge of head coach Sean Payton.

While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has yet to come out with a punishment for the Saints, Williams or Payton, industry experts expect Goodell to throw the book at the organization as part of his efforts to clean up the NFL, which is currently struggling with lawsuits resulting from player concussions and their long-term effects.

It’s interesting to see how various bloggers, sports writers and journalists, athletes and fans are addressing this issue, and what “sides” they are taking. Most athletes acknowledge that such bounties have been a part of the game for a while now, that violence is part of football, and that violent hits aren’t always the result of bounties out on that particular players.

Fans are outraged, partly because the term bounty contains such negative connotations, and partly because they can’t believe that someone would pay a player to try and injure another player. Sports writers are all across the spec

trum, telling fans to calm down while vilifying the players and personnel involved in the system.

Let me be clear. I enjoy watching football, and it’s obvious to all involved that football is a violent sport.

Injuries are bound to occur, and while the NFL, the coaching and medical staffs and players should do their best to limit injuries or the severity of injuries, particularly concussions, there is no way that professional football will ever be injury-free.

Secondly, we the fans and the sports media, as well as the athletes, celebrate and glorify violent or “big” hits. There are segments on pre and post-game shows devoted to these hits.

We “ooh” and “aah” everytime we see one. It’s hard not to. They’re entertaining, for the most part.

A big hit in football is the equivalent of a dunk in basketball: they both swing momentum in the favor of a specific team and they are a manifestation of physical dominance. As fans, we eat that stuff up.

But as fans, we don’t like to see people get injured. And we don’t want athletes to be paid based on their ability to injure or knockout an opposing player.

As fans, we fund the NFL through memorabilia, ticket sales and television deals, and what we want to see is skilled, athletic individuals playing at the height of their game within the confines of the rules.

If big hits happen, then so be it. But such hits shouldn’t be incentivized.

There is no need for bounties in the NFL.