The NFL’s Hypocritical Outrage Against Bonuses for Injuring Players
Players got bonuses to knock out their opponents? Buzz Bissinger asks: Isn’t that why we watch football?
So an investigation has shown that the New Orleans Saints from 2009 to 2011 used a bounty system, offering players money to knock opponents out of games. The amount in question was said to be $1,500, which for most National Football League players is what they spend on a strip-club lap dance.
What to make of it?
That NFL players, despite all the lip service paid toward concussions and reducing the level of violence in the game, could not care less and don’t want the inherent insanity diminished.
That football players, at least in uniform and often out of it, are crazy, psycho, too-strong and too-fast machines of physical vengeance, and would shoot their mother to win a football game, regardless of new rules vainly trying to rein in the aggressiveness they learned in the womb.
That coaches are paid to win, and motivating players is part of that equation, and if offering bounties to knock players out of the game by injuring them is an added motivation, then that’s what coaches will do.
Is it barbaric? Yes. Is it terrifying? Yes. Is it sick? Yes.
I’ve said it before and I will say it again:
That is why we watch football. Because it is barbaric and terrifying and sick. Because we love good hits and kamikaze safety blitzes and a quarterback sitting on the field after a sack with visions of Tweety Bird dancing in his brain.
I’m lovin’ it. So are 99 percent of fans, too many of them afraid to admit it now because they don’t want to endorse a game that is inherently sadistic, a particularly egregious political incorrectism.
It is the same with the self-righteous goody-goody blowhards—Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times, John Clayton of ESPN.com, John DeShazier of the New Orleans Times-Picayune and dozens more spewing out their predictable and clumsy outrage. Plaschke called the bounty system “sanctioned evil.” Is that the first time this has really occurred to you, Bill? Of course football is sanctioned evil, the less sanctioned the more visceral and gladiatorial and exciting.
We don’t watch football for its feats of athletic ballet. The key element of football is hitting hard, hitting to intimidate, and yes, hitting to get players out of games. Force a player to the sidelines, such as Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, or the New York Giants’ Eli Manning, or the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady, or New Orleans’ own quarterback, Drew Brees, the chances of winning go up exponentially. If you don’t force them out, but strike fear into their hearts that they are going to be clobbered on every play, your chances of winning go up as well.
It’s football, not foosball.
Don’t believe for one second that the New Orleans Saints are the only team with a bounty system. Don’t strut around with some halo thinking that your favorite pro team would never sink to such a level. Just praise God that your team did not get caught. And the Saints, contrary to media hysteria, were not advocating breaking players’ necks or backs.
The most laughable character in this is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. He talks a good game on reducing violence in football and protecting the safety of players. He has instituted new rules banning certain kinds of hits, and there is a much better protocol in place when a player has a concussion during a game, dictating the conditions under which he can return. But is Goodell doing it because he cares about players, or because he is trying to fend off future player lawsuits against the NFL for mistreatment of injuries?
Don’t be stupid.
How can Goodell say he cares about player safety when he is a strong advocate of an 18-game season? The argument for it, that teams would only play two exhibition games instead of four, thereby keeping the net number of games the same, is ridiculous. Starters don’t play entire exhibition games, particularly the last two, because they are meaningless.
If those last two exhibition games become regular games, starters will play the entirety. With the expansion of the schedule, which greedy owners and Goodell want because of their financial piggery, players will be subjected to the potential of injury and long-term harm from football more than ever.
So let’s drop the transparent sanctimony. At least the central figure involved, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, has admitted culpability. It is also pretty clear that in a duel he would shoot you in the back as you were still counting off paces. But Goodell’s indignation is paper thin, and he will only try to make it thicker by tagging the Saints with enormous fines and penalties. The bounty rule, said Goodell, compromises “competitive integrity.” There is nary a professional athlete alive who believes in athletic integrity. They believe in winning, whatever it takes.
The game that many now point to as symptomatic of the Saints’ conduct took place between New Orleans and the Minnesota Vikings in 2010 for the NFC championship. Vikings quarterback Brett Favre was mercilessly pummeled that day, and two unnecessary-roughness penalties were called against the Saints for hits on Favre. In the third quarter, the quarterback injured his ankle on a hit by Bobby McCray in which McCray was not penalized but later fined. Outrageous conduct by the Saints in a 31-28 win and eventual Super Bowl victory? Heinous? ESPN.com in its game stories did not raise a word about the Saints’ playing dirty and in fact praised the team’s defense. But that was then. This is now. “Disbelief won’t move and disgust can’t breathe,” Plaschke wrote about the Saints in a spasm of nonsensical hyperventilation that, along with hits to the head, should also be banned.
Let’s listen to the person affected the most in that championship game.
“It’s football,” said Favre over the weekend. “I don’t think anything less of those guys. Said or unsaid, guys do it anyway. If they can drill you and get you out [of the game], they will.”
In Philadelphia, the most popular coach of the past 25 years is Buddy Ryan. He never won a playoff game, so why is he so beloved? Because of the “Body Bag Game,” in which he said the Washington Redskins would be beaten so badly they would have to carted off “in body bags.” Eight Redskins players left the game that day, Nov. 12, 1990, including the first- and second-string quarterback, in a 28-14 Eagles win, and Buddy Ryan became a hero. But that was then. Don’t be surprised now if the penalty for unnecessary roughness on a quarterback is an automatic touchdown and new Corvette.
The only group honest about the whole flap-about-nothing are NFL players themselves, which may bear some listening to since they are the ones on the field. “It doesn’t surprise me,” said Detroit Lions’ safety Chris Harris. Matt Bowen, who played for defensive coordinator Williams with the Redskins when a similar bounty system was apparently in effect, wrote in the Chicago Tribune, “Bounties, cheap shots, whatever you want to call them, they are a part of this game… It was our gig, our game plan, our way to motivate, to extra-motivate.” Said All-Pro guard Alan Faneca, “It’s a violent game we play. If it results in a guy not finishing the game, then that’s what happened.”
They know the risks, just as they know that you do anything to win. Biting, scratching, beating the bejesus out of one another, bounty hunting. It’s why we love it.
So let’s drop the angel wings.
They look silly on all of us.