When news broke that the New Orleans Saints had actively been involved with a bounty program designed to take out opposing players, immediately the country swung into a hysteric state of judgment and outrage.
The Saints organisation, which produced a Championship in 2010, had come up with a rewards system to not only motivate it’s players, but disrupt their opposition’s chances of winning a football game by purposely hitting and/or injuring their best players. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is the supposed mastermind behind this culture of intended harm.
The immediate reaction of the media, of fans and even myself, was disbelief, disgust and distrust. No one could understand how this had occurred for so long, how it became public and how influential coaches and management figures would participate in an operation of this perilous magnitude.
This was heavily contrasted by the reaction of players, both current and former.
They too offered no sympathy, but also no surprise. They were uncomfortable with the reported details, but were not perplexed by them.
It was very clear, even within the 24 hours following the revelations, that this not only has happened before, but still happens today within franchises other than the New Orleans Saints.
Because football continues to change at a rate and in a form both uncontrollable and unfavourable, the outburst of negative emotion surrounding this issue was to be expected. The bounties were largely placed on the heads of the greatest quarterbacks of the time, and this severely clashes with the new age of NFL rules that have the game rigged to ensure the quarterback is not only safe but as comfortable as possible.
Before I make the point I wish to portray, I need to offer this opinion. The gag reflex we all experience when hearing about this kind of story, I believe, is largely based upon it’s packaging. By that I simply mean, the words chosen to describe it.
For example, let’s get rid of the word ‘bounty’. Let’s do away with whatever label the media has concocted for what the Saints were partaking in.
If I were to tell you the Saints had been running a ‘big hit sweepstakes’, would you still be convulsing? If we painted this situation as the Saints players and officials offering monetary incentives for players that could make a big defensive play, to put a big hit on an opponent, to hit him so hard he was hurt but legally, would it still be the story it is?
We have no proof, as of yet, that anything the Saints did as a part of this program featured illegal hits or dirty play, rather we just assume because this is below the moral standards we want in sport. It’s a fair assumption, but a naive and unjust one.
A few days ago I was listening to an afternoon sports talk radio show in Sydney, Australia and a great coincidence was innocently brought forth.
Andrew Johns, a man whom many consider to be the greatest rugby league player of all time, was talking about some of the experiences he had when he first entered the National Rugby League (NRL) competition. He made reference to an eerily familiar system that was internal to his team’s operations. He identified a player for a rival team who was as fast and as dangerous with the ball as anyone in the league and that his side had some hidden motivation for stopping him.
By his own words, he admitted the team placed a “bounty” on the head of this particular opponent, and anyone that took him out of the game would receive money and beer (Australians are simple people). The thing I found most interesting was the ease in which he described it and the tone in which he explained it. He left no facts clouded, he had no conscience telling him that this should not be spoken of and he reminisced to it like it was a nostalgic and common event. The reaction he received was appropriate to the context in which he offered it. It was met with laughter and acceptance that this was a part of the game.
In no way were any of the individuals in this particular conversation relating their experiences to what the New Orleans Saints had been caught doing and I do not believe any of the individuals were even aware of what had happened within the NFL.
So when current and former NFL players shrug their shoulders at the mention of ‘bounties’, when Saints players show no real remorse and when athletes in other countries from other codes of sport too casually admit this is an afterthought within professional contact sports, why is it those who are least connected to the sport and it’s perpetuators/victims, are those who are most upset?