Tuesday, March 27, 2012

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS: The Bounty Program

I recently wrote a short post for another publication concerning the wrongful death action that the family of former professional football player Dave Duerson is bringing against the NFL.  Duerson’s family alleges that the player committed suicide in part due to the concussions he suffered as a player.

I received a short response from a reader as follows:

     “Bulls***, money loving bastards.”  (The asterisks are mine.)

It seemed to me like a bit of an overreaction.  It’s interesting that the commenter takes a shot at the supposed greed of Dave Duerson’s family while not mentioning the greed of the NFL, whose annual profits are in excess of $8.5 billion.  Still, I do give the commenter credit for spelling the offending words correctly.  I also believe he was sincere.  Probably no thoughtful reader with the capacity for self-doubt would have posted such a comment.

Besides the reader having an empty heart and empty head and probably being emotionally wound too tight, what are we to make of such a comment? I’m guessing he’s the type of person that represents a kind of insanity all too common.  We haven’t quite reached the point where we’ve had a soccer riot that’s left 75 people dead, but we do gamble away hundreds of millions of dollars every year on long shots that exceed ten-to-one.  Some of us threaten to kill a fellow Chicago Cubs’ fans that allegedly interfered with a foul ball.  Following the most horrific scandal in college history, Penn State football fans riot over Joe Paterno being fired rather than over the molestation of several young boys at their campus.  Finally, certain Saints’ fans are more outraged at Jerome Shockey, who may or may not have been the source for the New Orleans Saints bounty program leak, than they are by the fact that players were being paid to end other players’ careers.

It now seems the Saints specific bounty program has been going on for some time.  The owner of the Saints, Tom Benson, had ordered the Saints coaching staff to end their bounty program a couple of years ago.   Still, Head Coach Sean Payton and then defensive coordinator Greg Williams while promising to put an end to it continued with the pay-offs.  Eventually it was exposed through overheard conversations recorded on the sidelines, by a possible whistleblower whose identity remains unknown, and by some questionable shots on Brett Favre and other players during key games.  The program’s existence has since been verified by defensive coordinator Greg Williams.

I don’t think anyone should be too surprised about what was going on.  Players have probably always been trying to take out other football players on the other side in any case and there has been some give and take as far as this is concerned.  Quarterbacks have long been a target.  I once saw a film clip of Joe Namath being leveled close to three seconds after he had thrown the ball.  Namath like so many other great players from the 1960s is barely able to walk anymore. 

Such practices of course have continued.  One notorious example involved Charles Martin, a former defensive lineman for the Green Bay Packers, who in 1986 carried a “hit list” of opponent player’s names on a towel onto the field.   One of the names on the towel was Quarterback Jim McMahon who Martin subsequently threw down and injured after a play was over. 

And what has happened in New Orleans did not involve the first bounty program of its kind.  Variations of such programs go at least as far back as the fabled Oakland Raiders in the 1970s, and there probably was a similar type bounty program going on these last couple of years in the Washington Redskin organization as well.   Such programs may have been going on among several NFL organizations.

Still, the New Orleans bounty program was exposed at a bad point in NFL history when the league is under fire for not doing more to protect its players from concussions.  Roger Goodell for some time has been all about “player safety” to avoid the same type of Congressional Hearing that baseball faced concerning the use of steroids.  It seems Goodell does have some reason to worry as such a hearing has now been proposed by Senator Dick Durbin – not specifically about concussions but about bounty programs.

Goodell has now acted.  The Saints’ coach Sean Payton is suspended for the entire 2012 season and General Manager Mickey Loomis for at least half of the season.  The organization has been fined $500,000 and they have now lost two second round draft picks.  Greg William, who contributed money to the bounty fund and who claims to be primarily responsible for the bounty program’s organization, is no longer with the Saints but nevertheless faces an indefinite suspension. Several players are expected to face suspensions in the coming weeks as well.

As far as football punishments go, these were some of the stiffest ever handed down in league history.  As far as player safety goes, it will probably only make a marginal difference.  The punishments probably will lessen the use of such bounty programs.  It is also likely that the NFL will monitor concussions more closely than they did in the past.  Yet there is only so much that can be done as the sport is a violent one and players are hitting harder than ever.  Improved padding and equipment has only made such hits all the more possible.

I live in Minnesota where there is current debate going on to build a brand new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.  What used to be called the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome and is now called the Mall of America Field no longer seems to suffice.  I remember when the domed stadium was first built back in the 1980s.   Supporters of building the dome said that, though it would be expensive, such a structure would be a solution concerning the housing of our various sports’ teams.  The Vikings, the Twins and the Minnesota Gophers would all be able to call the domed stadium their home.  And almost from the beginning what instead happened was that none of the franchises were happy about this domed stadium.   We’ve since built separate stadiums for the Twins and for the Gophers.  So now instead of having what stadium for the three teams, we have three separate stadiums (presuming that the Vikings’ stadium does get built) at who knows how many more times the cost.

I predict the Vikings will get a stadium.  The reason I predict this has nothing to do with business factors, contributions to the community or development of neighborhoods.  Those arguments will certainly be brought up in support of building such a stadium.  The reason why I believe it will be built is because there are so many unreasoning individuals in the world such as the commenter I mentioned above.  They couldn’t put together more than a four word response as to why a new stadium is necessary, but there is no reasoning with them.  They’re interests are quite narrow.  They do not have lives outside of watching professional football.  They’re willing to insult a family whose member committed suicide.  They are willing to threaten a fan that allegedly caused their team a chance at a championship.  And many such individuals are the type of fanatics that will vote out a politician for no other reason that we lost a professional sports franchise. 

I am a sports fan. I’ve written many times about sports on this website.  I admire the skills and dedication of professional athletes and have no grudge against them for the money they make.  They simply have a job to do.  I would rather see a professional athlete take home the millions of dollars than any business executive or Hollywood star.  At least I know that the athlete had to exhibit more real talent and perseverance to get where they are at.  There’s very little politics that goes into running a 4.4 forty or bench pressing more than 500 pounds.  If only more sports fans could learn from at least some of their examples rather than live vicariously through such athletes instead.

The New Orleans Saints fans can live a season without Sean Payton.  They can go without a couple key draft picks.  The Saints had their world championship a couple of seasons back and it’s yet to even be seen if they will be in the doldrums next season.  Even so, the fans that think they know everything now believe their world is ending. 

March 27, 2012

© Robert Miller 2012