Bounty Hunting in the NFL

Last week, New Orleans Saints’ head coach Sean Payton was suspended by the National Football League for one year. Former Saints defensive coordination Gregg Williams has been banned indefinitely, the Saints were fined $500, 000 and penalized their second round draft pick for the next two seasons, their General Manager was suspended for eight games – the first time a General Manager has ever been suspended, assistant coach Joe Vitt was suspended for the first six games, and player punishments may still be handed out for the Saints’ implementation of a bounty system and the subsequent cover up during the NFL investigation fo the Saints.

What’s a bounty system? It’s a system that targets certain players on opposing teams and pays bonuses to defensive players if they injure them. The NFL said the scheme involved 22 to 27 defensive players, targeting opponents including quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers, Cam Newton, Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. “Knockouts” were worth $1,500 and “cart-offs” $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs. In other words, player received financial rewards for intentionally injuring opposing players.

Football is a violent sport, and the risk of serious injury is always present. Player accept the risk as part of the game, but players and organizations that encourage intentional injury cross the line from sports and entertainment to nothing more than thuggery.  With ever-increasing focus and concern on concussions and their long term effects – including suicidal tendencies in those who have had multiple concussions, such cheap tactics are truly a matter of life and death.

Saints’ Quarterback Drew Brees came to the defense of Sean Payton on Twitter, calling him “a great man, coach, and mentor. The best there is.” No, Drew, you are wrong. Sean Payton is an unprincipled thug, the worst kind of influence that exists in professional sports – or anywhere else. There’s nothing about his behavior that is consistent with being a great man, coach, or mentor. If he thought we has a good enough coach, he wouldn’t have endorsed the implementation of a bounty system.

This is but one example of two broader cultural issues in America. The first is bullying, and the NFL has descended to the worst of playground bullying behavior. The second is that we have bought into the idea that the ends always justify the means, that a “win at any cost” mentality is acceptable, that ethics and morality are antiquated concepts that are no longer relevant. That same reasoning pervaded the Bush administration and left us with a former President and Vice-President who cannot travel out of the Country for fear of being arrested as war criminals.

To its credit, the NFL has taken a stand and meted out punishment. To be honest, the punishment is inadequate. There’s no room in football for either Sean Payton or Gregg Williams. The sad truth is that money will rule the day and Payton will be back. Gregg Williams may not be as fortunate because he’s not as “important” as Sean Payton. I remember the day when real men took responsibility for everything that happened on their watch. In fact, I think that standard still applies.

Questions, Drew Breese?

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