Since the "bounty-gate" scandal involving the New Orleans Saints broke last Friday, there's been no shortage of outrage on both sides of the issue. On the one hand, you have some hand-wringing pundits who are shocked! that NFL players might be engaging in any sort of incentive-based system that involves making big plays. On the other hand, you've got former players and coaches essentially saying "no big deal" and insisting that what went down with the Saints is par for the NFL course.
Both sides are missing the trees for the forest in this case. Big picture, it's only a shock to the most naive who believe that their beloved sports heroes simply are out there playing for "the love of the game." The NFL is big business, and yes the players get rewarded handsomely for their services, but over the course of training camp and a 16 game season, the game can no doubt get rather tedious. It's not really that surprising at all that teams routinely put up some cash to "make things interesting."
That being said, it's not the "side bets" that are out of line here. Roger Goodell may disagree and contend that these extra-contractual arrangements threaten the integrity of the game, but I don't see anything wrong with incentivizing big plays, whether that be quarterback sacks, interceptions or even "big hits." It's when the words "knockout" and "cart off" start being applied that this becomes problematic.
Last I checked, no points are awarded for causing injury. In fact, I know of no sport outside of boxing where injuring and maiming one's opponent is considered "part of the game." Baseball frowns upon intentionally hitting batters, as well it should. Basketball discourages "flagrant" and "intentional" fouls. There's no place in football or any other sport for intentionally trying to take an opponent out of the game physically.
Football is risky enough when it's played within the rules. Each player knows that any one play can be the end of his career. Bengals fans know only too well the impact of injuries that occur during the course of any game. What might have happened in Super Bowl XXIII if Tim Krumrie hadn't broken his leg? What might David Pollack have become had he not broken his neck? Kijana Carter? Carson Palmer? That's all part of the game, but injuries impact the competitive nature of the game tremendously. To think that players are out there intentionally trying to inflict injury is not only barbaric, but a threat to the integrity of the sport.
Roger Goodell will be completely correct to make an example out of the Saints, even if it really is "happening everywhere." For the good of the game, this must stop. "Star power" is a key to the NFL as it is in any sport. Fans come out to see certain players play. Why are we all excited about the Bengals home schedule next year? Yes, a lot of it has to do with the hope we have in the home team, but even more has to do with visits coming from Tim Tebow, Eli Manning and Carson Palmer. All three of those games are candidates for prime time television and scalpers are already drooling over what they might bring in for ducats to those games. What if Palmer gets injured and isn't suited up for that game? Then it's just Bengals versus Raiders.
This is why it's insane for the players to engage in these bounties. It's self-defeating. By knocking out the "stars" of the NFL, they're ultimately hurting themselves the most. If the NFL is losing their drawing cards, they're also losing revenue in the process. Some player might collect ten large for knocking Tom Brady out of the game, but how much will Tom Brady's absence affect the NFL's bottom line and thus player salaries? Probably more than the spoils from the bounty.
It's also highly ironic that the players just went through a "show" of solidarity during the lockout. I guess that's all that was. For all their talk about hanging together, it seems rather odd that they would then sanction intentionally threatening another player's earning power, much less profiting from it.
Goodell will deal harshly with the Saints. Before that, however, the NFLPA should be front and center in condemning any "bounties" going on in NFL locker rooms. They should stand together to silence loudmouths like Steelers player rep Ryan Clark as well. Clark fails to realize that this "bounty" business only goes one way. He can "target" an opposing quarterback or receiver but they'll likely not get their shot at him.
If Clark thinks players are coming to see him play, he's sadly mistaken. He need only look to his team's playoff loss to Denver where he wasn't dressed, but Tim Tebow was. Tebow not only carved up the Steelers' secondary in Clark's absence, but helped the game achieve record television ratings. The Steelers might have missed Ryan Clark that game, but the NFL clearly didn't.
Maybe we should allow quarterbacks to put out bounties on safeties. That would be less damaging to their brand.
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