I’m not going to pretend that I know more than NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. He’s a smart guy. He was presented all of the facts. He personally knows all of the parties. And at the end of the day, he was appointed to role of decision-maker because he, above all, understands how to make the NFL better. And it has certainly worked. The NFL is the highest-rated and most popular sport in America. But despite what I believe were his best intentions, the punishments handed out today to the New Orleans Saints were ridiculous.
Everyone is probably familiar with the story by now. The Saints defense operated a bounty system over the past three seasons that compensated players for injuring the opposition. For example, if you knocked the QB or another star player out of the game you might collect $10,000.
And this led to quite the punishment.
First off, the Saints will lose two 2nd round picks. That’s to be expected, especially given the punishment handed to the New England Patriots over “Spy-Gate”. But there’s more: Sean Payton (head coach) is out for the season, Gregg Williams (former defensive coordinator) is out indefinitely, Joe Vitt (assistant coach) is out six games, and Mickey Loomis (general manager and owner of a name that sounds suspiciously like an Irish gangster) is out eight games.
Oh, and that doesn’t even account for the inevitable player suspensions that are soon to follow. Basically, the 2012-13 Saints season is going to be a rough one. A fitting analogy might be that Commissioner Goodell has knocked the Saints out of the game by delivering a serious blow to the brains and eventually the talent, most likely because there has been a bounty offered up by the media and other self-righteous people who think they know what’s best for everyone else. Go figure.
So where do I agree with Roger? Well, it makes sense that people need to follow the rules. Bounties are illegal and if you violate a rule you should be punished. The same can be said about taking PEDs, while the use is morally debatable, it’s no secret that the NFL says you can’t do them, or you risk being punished if caught (which by the way is a mere 4 games, and I stress if caught).
But that is where my agreement ends and personal responsibility comes into play.
With the exception of the completely naïve, I would assume every single NFL player is well aware that bounties exist, at least in some form. And to a large degree, based on recent interviews with players like Kurt Warner and Brett Favre, many players believe bounties are just part of the game. That doesn’t imply that they agreed with them, but it does imply that they were aware and still suited up every game.
And for what reason you ask? Because they love the game and they get paid a sh*tload of money to play it. They know the risks, but the money and the fame and the glory and the fun win out. Again, go figure.
And let us not forget that football is an incredibly violent sport in the first place. The object of the game is to punish the opposition. So who is to say bounties even escalate this level of violence? Certainly not any more so than a simple contract incentive.
What if a linebacker gets a $200k bonus for recording 10 sacks? Modern economic theory would lead me to believe the “rational” person will try harder to achieve that goal. And if a 6’4’’ 275 lb. linebacker is trying harder to sack the quarterback and get that money, I’m guessing the sharks in Vegas would increase the odds that the quarterback might get seriously injured. But that’s okay because it’s in a contract and as we all know from the commentary of any professional athlete that is a free agent, “it’s a business,” and the NFL is allowed to behave like a business. Just seems like a bit of a double standard if you ask me.
What I believe should be the fall-out is absolutely nothing. No punishments, no scrutiny, no nothing. Perhaps we should let those impacted make the decision for once (the NFLPA is currently conducting their own investigation—it will be very interesting to hear those findings). If the NFLPA comes out against bounties and some representatives speak out, then I’ll change my mind.
And if they do, I just hope they don’t try and convince me that a player is more motivated by a bounty that pays upwards of $10,000 (by the way this was Jonathan Vilma’s offer to the Saints defense to knock Favre out of the 2009 playoffs) than he would be deterred from the $100,000 fine he will pay for an illegal hit on a defense-less player.