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Saints bounty program leaves black mark on sport

Published: March 9, 2012
Section: Sports


The National Football League (NFL) finds itself amid a scandal that threatens to alter the face of the sport on every level: professional, college, high school and pop warner.
Reports surfaced last week that the New Orleans Saints ran a bounty program from 2009 to 2011. While bounty programs have frequently been rumored to exist in the NFL, the fact of the matter is that the Saints got caught and the extent and scope of their bounty program is staggering.
Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, now with the St. Louis Rams, is reported to have instituted the bounty program with the Saints in 2009. An extensive 50,000-page investigation compiled by the NFL found that about from 22 to 27 defensive players received bounty payments from 2009 to 2011.
It is important, though, to make a distinction between a bounty and a hit. Football is inherently a violent sport. Injuries are part of the game. Nobody likes to see anyone injured, but sometimes an ankle bends the wrong way or a knee buckles. In contrast to such accidents, the bounty program promised financial rewards to players who intentionally injured opponents. For example, a player who knocked out another player was paid $1,500 while a player who inflicted a hit on another player was paid $1,000. During those injury timeouts in which everyone is on the field praying, wondering whether or not the injured player would be able to step onto the field again, Saints players were being rewarded money.
The report details that before the 2009 NFC championship game, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma had offered any defensive teammate $10,000 to knock out Brett Favre. Even more damning is an audio picked up by an on-field microphone. After an unflagged high-low hit on Favre resulted in a high-ankle sprain, an unnamed Saints defender was heard saying, “Pay me my money.”
This information comes to light at a particularly sensitive time for the NFL. Scientific evidence revealed recently that violent hits can cause irreparable brain damage and shortened life spans. With retired players already suing the NFL for brain damage incurred while playing the game, some have speculated whether or not the sport may be facing extinction.
This is why Roger Goodell has made player safety his primary focus during his tenure as NFL commissioner. Goodell is trying to change the perception of the sport because, in essence football is barbaric. Men are out on the field trying to knock each other out. As if this was not enough, the allegations against the Saints now paint football as a blood sport.
College, high school and pop warner football all emulate the NFL. Whatever, the NFL does, all other football teams will follow. The college landscape was alerted to the dangers of concussions and head trauma in October 2010 when Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand attempted a headfirst tackle at full speed and injured his neck and spinal cord leaving him paralyzed.
Football will always be a violent sport; There is nothing we can do to change that. Players will get injured, and that is just the way of contact sports. We can, however, protect these players from those who would intentionally try to injure or maim an opponent for a small financial gain. It is for this reason only that Goodell must come down on the Saints with unprecedented penalties and sanctions.
When the Patriots were caught using video cameras to tape opponents’ signals, Goodell stripped the team of its first-round draft pick, fined Coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and charged the organization $250,000. What the Patriots did was wrong, but it did not result in injured players or altered careers for the worse. At the time, retired NFL coaches admitted they had engaged in similar activities; the only difference for the Patriots, however, was getting caught.
In the case of the Saints, no one can condone bounty payments for attempting to break a player’s leg in order to knock him out of a game. Roger Goodell must come down hard on the Saints. He must make an example out of the Saints that this type of malicious intent will not be tolerated. At the very least, Williams should be suspended for half a season while the Saints should lose multiple draft picks, be fined at least $2,000,000 and have its players suspended. For the continued health of football and its players, Goodell must bring the hammer down on the Saints.