In a story that hit the airwaves last week, NFL officials said the organization has been investigating former Saints’ and current Rams’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams for organizing a bounty system that offered cash incentives for hurting opponents. The story seems to keep getting bigger and bigger, as more teams seem to have some sort of informal bounty/incentive program in their locker rooms. It's a story that’s getting out of control.
Apparently, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell hasn’t been aware that teams incentivize good play on a regular basis. It seems to me that Goodell, who is King of the NFL, has been sleeping on the job – or has been vacationing in Bermuda for the past 15 years. In case he hasn’t noticed, football players have been asked by their coaches and fellow players to step up and make plays for decades, and they have often done just that, with certain incentives.
In my high school days, being the defensive player in a game meant you had to wear a standout yellow jersey the next week. Looking back, it was small change, but when you were awarded the jersey, you wore it with pride. We also had stickers for our helmets for tackles, turnovers and other big defensive plays. We loved to wear that helmet covered in stickers. It showed our individual success.
Hell, even our offensive line coach, who owned a Dairy Queen, offered up a free Blizzard to the player who could get in and block a field goal during special team practices. Scandal alert! You better believe it worked – I never wanted a Butterfinger Blizzard so much in my life!
Coaches incentivize individual performance all the time, even in college, where they have to walk a very fine line rules when it comes to offering student players anything, especially tattoos.
And then, if you are fortunate to go to the NFL, coaches and players don’t hand out stickers anymore – they hand out cash. It’s a perk for making it to the big time, I guess. I’ve never spent any good amount of time hanging out in locker rooms with NFL players, but I suspect these so-called “bounty programs” Goodell is talking about are actually very informal, and done with a sense of humor. Offering up $100 for a fumble or $500 for a returned kick. Why not $100 bucks per sack, or even $1,000 for whoever sacks the quarterback for a safety? Sounds fun. I’m in.
I don’t think each player really needs $100, when they are making millions, but these bets or wagers or bounties, whatever you want to call them, provide a little incentive and a lot of entertainment. Winning $100 for a sack gives you bragging rights in the locker room the next day, and then it gives you an excuse to blow the money on Madden ’12 the next day.
Making wagers like this is what grown men do. I’m not sure the IRS approves, and I’m sure league rules officially denounce the wagers, but who cares? I suspect that most of this type of activity that went on was all in good fun, for the most part. Boys will be boys. (Who plays golf these days without a little something on the line?)
Now if there are a few players or coaches actually putting bounties on actually injuring opponents, then there is a problem. If a coach says to a player, “I’ll write you a check for $1,000 if you hurt Tom Brady in tonight’s game,” that’s probably going too far. I’d really be surprised to see if Williams or other coaches really went that far, that blatantly, with a bounty.
According to a confidential four-page memo sent to every team concerning this new revelation of football’s bounty culture, which was obtained by SI’s Peter King, there were players who offered money for injuries. “At times,” stated the memo, “players both pledged significant amounts and targeted particular players. For example, prior to the Saints playoff game in January 2010, defensive captain Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 in cash to any player who knocked [Brett] Favre out of the game.”
As King goes on to explain in his story, if you watched that particular game, you know the Saints brutalized Favre. There were a number of gruesome (and often illegal) hits on the Vikings quarterback that day, and with that bounty now public, it does make sense. Someone should probably be punished for it.
But here’s where what I don’t like. Putting a bounty on a player is nothing new in the NFL. Coaches and players have been punished in the past for this very thing – it’s nothing new. So why is it that this most recent story seems so big? If the NFL has proof that Williams, Vilma, head coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis knew about the bounty, they should be fined and/or suspended. Can’t Goodell just punish them and leave it at that? Must there be an ongoing investigation into the culture of bounties in the NFL?
Is there really a bounty culture in the NFL? Remember, all of these players were on the same side of the negotiating table, not that long ago. I suspect they respect each other enough that they aren’t going out to take a guy’s knee out for $1,500. Maybe not?
For some reason, I feel this is just another ploy by Goodell to make a name for himself as Sheriff of the NFL. Yes, he needs to protect the health of players, but he also must protect the game itself.
Already, the league is too quarterback/passer friendly. There are no incentives for good defensive play any more – just penalties. No wonder players are throwing cash around the locker room. It gives them a reason to play hard.
Like every scandal that hits the news these days, there is already a “-gate” attached to this one. Bounty-gate isn’t going to end for a long time now, as Goodell’s quest to make the NFL more like flag football tournament lingers. First there was Spygate, now there is Bounty-gate? Good grief. Has it really come to that?
I think I need a Butterfinger Blizzard.
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