Unsaintly Behavior in the No Fun League

Football is political. It has as many levels of play as any government. From pee wee to junior high and high school, through college to the pros – football represents the masses in a very unusual manner. It is the sport of the modern-day gladiator as witnessed by the rabid fans (I include myself here) that attend and support the system. We like to see these players defeat and beat one another in glorious fashion. We have tailgate parties, playoff parties, and victory parades in celebration of the eventual champion for various levels of the game. Each years collegiate National Champion and the NFL’s Super Bowl Champion get a call from the President. We have exported the game to Europe and started a movement there. Football is uniquely American. While baseball may be the national pastime, football is America’s Game.

So this past week when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell laid the lumber down on the New Orleans Saints for “bountygate”, the news circulated the globe in less than a day. Now, let me make a few points – Point 1. I do not support “bounties” in a pay for play manner is any fashion; Point 2. I support punishment for teams that use pay for play aimed at injuring players.  Point 3 – I do NOT support the punishment handed down by Goodell and will detail why in the blog.

Now we have to get into the “howevers” and throw some reality into this game and what has happened with the Saints.  Football is a violent game played by boys and men that like to get out and hit one another. The object of the game is to win – not tie or hug one another. In placing a game plan to defeat the other team, a team plans how to execute their plan over the other team. A big part of that plan is to neutralize the opponents strength. If the stopping opponents quarterback or running back is the key to victory – you neutralize them by beating the crud out of them during the game. Period. That is why defense put 9 men on the line of scrimmage for a star running back, 2 defensive backs are put on stud receivers, and why defenses blitz to sack the quarterback. Now – a fine line exists between legally beating the crud out of an opponent and “unnecessary roughness”. You don’t hit the head, below the knees, or in the back. Or after the play is over. So, in the front from chest to thighs is free game no matter how hard you can hit your opponent. If you cannot handles those rules – don’t play the game.

Since the news of this investigation broke on March 2, I have watched the NFL Network as much as I could. Yes, the Manning Sweepstakes had my attention as well. I have watched all the clips the network has played over and over and over on the Saints and all the hard hits the last 3 years.  In my opinion, 90% of the hits they have run the clips on were legal. Were they hard, vicious hits? Yes, but that is part of the game. The other 10% were plays that were obvious late hits or illegals to parts of the body defined already.

The Cup of Hypocrisy Runneth Over
Now, I have several issues with Goodell’s punishment. The first is a double standard. Go back to 2007 when the Green Bay Packers were paying bounties to keep opposing running backs under 100 yards per game. Or how about 2008 when several Baltimore Ravens players admitted to having bounties out for Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers? Goodell has been commish since 2006 and both of these teams got their hands slapped. These are just 2 examples that have high publicity aside from New Orleans. It would not take much to dig a little deeper and find more. Oh, go back and look at how the Patriots won Superbowl 36 over the Rams and started a dynasty: they beat the daylights out of the Rams receivers and backs. Vicious, hard-hitting, and borderline in many cases. Did the Pats have bounties in that game? Rumors floated for years about this and nary a word came from the NFL. Somewhere the Saints have tinkled in the Post Toasties of the NFL and made an enemy. Another issue I have with the punishment is the severity. Goodell most likely ended the career of Greg Williams and maybe Sean Payton, depending on how Payton’s replacement does during the upcoming season. Taking away draft picks? C’mon.  We have not heard what the players involved in the bounty program of the Saints will face, but if these actions are an indication, they will be severe. The biggest issue I have with Goodell’s punishments is the fact they overlook the NFL’s own culpability. Yes – I wrote it and I mean it. When Bobby McCray blind sided Kurt Warner in the 2009 playoffs, he ended Warner’s career. While Warner has insisted the hit was legal, many have felt it was illegal. I think it was illegal. He was going for Warner from the backside and would have plowed him in the back had Warner not turned into it. Where were the officials in the game, asleep? Where was the League review of the play from Goodell then? The NFL has the right to impose post game fines and penalties. Ask Steeler LB James Harrison about post game fines.  Not only did the NFL do nothing on the Warner hit, but other late hits on qb’s and other players that were obvious during games that the zebras on the field missed. I guarantee that if flags and fines had been handed down to the Saints in 2009 and on, the bounty issue would have been gone. By not taking action at the time of the violations, the NFL cannot escape the fact that they fostered the very environment that they are now providing severe punishment for. I’m not the only one thinking this and I can assure you that when the lawsuits start flying, and they will, this will be a rebuttal on the punishment.

Political Fallout
The ink was not even dry on the press release when Illinois Democrat Senator Dick Durbin announced he will have the Judiciary Committee hold hearings into the bounty issue to see if federal law was broken. Really Dick? With all of the troubles we have now, you need to focus on football? I am fairly sure the taxpayers don’t want the US government spending tax dollars on this issue. I’m fairly sure Goodell never thought of the ramifications outside of the NFL when he was deciding punishment. The NFLPA has already requested that player punishment be delayed so they can complete their own investigation before the NFL doles out punishment. Watch all the other unions around the nation circle the wagons here and you know Barry will weigh in before all of this is said and done. Obama is a Harvard lawyer and they like crud like this.

The End Game
Goodell is waving the “protecting the players” flag on this, using player safety as his reason for being so harsh. Is it that or does he have a different vision of the game? I have heard several sportswriters using the term of “…eliminating barbaric practices from the game…” and ushering in a new era of football.  Hockey took a similar stand a few years back to reduce violence in its game. The challenge they found was reduced attendance in the stands. Football is a violent game and people like the game because it is violent. If you cannot handle that fact, go watch soccer. If the goal is to line up the offense and just see if they can score in one play, it will get old without a defense knocking the snot out of players. The NFL is having unprecedented financial success right now, but if the fans think the game is headed towards glorified flag football…..

Guess we could always watch rugby.


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4 responses to “Unsaintly Behavior in the No Fun League

  1. ATB

    What goes around comes around…

    Check out Kurt’s interview…

  2. truelibertarian

    I agreed with you… up until a certain point. And that was the point when you fail to distinguish between bounties for INJURING PLAYERS and tolerable, physical play. And this is evident in a few places.

    You say football is about “beating the crud out of your opponent.” And that’s not necessarily false. Certainly, that’s one way to play the game, and that’s the way the entire offensive and defensive lines play the game. But that doesn’t justify anything. Why? Because that’s a ridiculously consequentialist way to look at it. You outline the parts of the body that should not be subject to hits. However, that’s not really the crux of the matter. A player who innocently injures another while playing pure, physical football is a good player. A player who hits another player with the aim and intent of injuring said player will wait for the right moment, hit in the right spot. It may be legal, or it may be sneaky enough to be called legal, but it’s unnecessary roughness whether or not it can actually be flagged. Why? Because that level of roughness is simply unnecessary. And you may call me naive, you may call me a fool, but football’s just a game. I love football, and I watch every game I can. But it’s a game. And you don’t purposely injure people over a game, even if the game happens to be something you get paid for. Because being paid to do something doesn’t excuse the immorality of that act.

    Next, when you mention the double standard, having a bounty for playing well is perfectly legitimate. The reason Goodell punished the Saints wasn’t because of the bounties, it was because the bounties were for injuring players. The Packers players paid linemen to keep opposing running backs under 100 yards, not to take them out of the game. And the issue with the Ravens? Personally, I believe the Ravens should be fully investigated. However, the breadth of the Ravens bounty system, from what was let slip, was fairly narrow and limited, whereas the Saints were running a far more dangerous and inappropriate show. Plus, there’s far less evidence than there was for the Saints. But even if the Ravens are fully as guilty as the Saints (which is really impossible for us all to know) not applying the rules to one side doesn’t mean the rules shouldn’t be applied to another team later on. Not to mention that I’ve read in numerous places that the main reason for such a harsh punishment was the coverup the Saints tried to get away with.

    But Williams and Payton are simply too effective to have this scandal significantly impact their careers. There aren’t enough defensive coordinators out there with the skill to be able to ignore Williams. With this level of punishment, there’s no way he’d try to run that system again. And even though his suspension is indefinite, Goodell has indicated that if Williams cooperates, takes his punishment, and acts all contrite, all will be forgiven. In a way.

    And finally, your final point is simply ridiculous. The first issue is that the referees=/=NFL. I would doubt that Goodell reviews many plays to determine fines. They’re probably handed out by people with a rubrik. And most plays that escape the flag escape the fine, because they’re more difficult to spot. Officials rewatching game film aren’t going to notice every single illegal hit. That would be expecting too much from people watching hours and hours of 22 people moving independently on a screen. So there are some hits that you think could’ve been called. Well, you can’t actually expect that every illegal hit will be called out. But you can expect that if an illegal hit is called out (and it is truly illegal), it should be. You can’t fault the NFL for not calling every one, because Goodell has done more than anyone else when it comes to player safety. Your blaming the NFL is an atrocious example of apologism for some truly disgusting, calculated behavior exhibited by fully grown adults already being paid exorbitant sums to play a game.

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