Others have stated that the program is a moral or ethical issue. They want to see Gregg Williams and Gregg Williams-types abolished from the game.
But the last time I checked, it’s not illegal to hit an opponent so hard that he gets carted off the field. It’s not illegal to put a shoulder pad into an opponents’ legs and force them from the game with an injury. Quarterbacks and ball-carriers know they’re going to be hit. It’s not like they signed up for beach volleyball and are now shocked that 6-foot-6, 280-pound defensive ends are coming to take their heads off.
It’s apparent to me that what’s wrong about the “bounty program” is the under-the-table compensation. NFL bylaws state that there are to be no non-contract bonuses and that, my friends, is the root of the issue. Everything else just makes for one dragged-through-the-mud discussion.
What’s funny is that defensive players are paid millions of dollars every year to hit, tackle, and otherwise inflict pain on opponents throughout the NFL season. Now some are up in arms because several Saints players were trying to knock Brett Favre out of the 2010 NFC championship game. If those people were being honest with themselves, they’d admit to not being upset about the act as much as they are with the monetary motivation. If the Saints didn’t have a bounty program in place and Darren Sharper came out after the game and said, ‘We were trying to take Brett Favre out. We knew we had to get to him in order to beat them,’ his comments wouldn’t be that jarring. Heck, what he said may have even been acceptable to some people who demand that the players they root for be tough and ferocious. But because there was bonus money in play, hey, now it’s an issue of ethics.
Look, I’m not trying to make light of the situation. Let me state for the record that I believe Williams’ program was wrong and that the Saints should be punished. Football is a violent game but the NFL has rules and Williams and the Saints broke one. Thus, if Roger Goodell wants to hinder other teams from using similar programs by taking away draft picks and suspending the men involved, then so be it. As a lifelong Falcons fan, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing the Saints lose a couple of hundred draft picks over the next 10 years. (Maybe then Atlanta could finally shrink the gap between itself and New Orleans on the field.)
But if anything, this situation should be more embarrassing and ridiculous than one that needs to be sensationalized as an issue of moral fiber (or lack thereof). Think about it: the NFL and NFLPA are constantly trying to come up with new ways to make the game safer but in the meantime, their own players are putting bounties on one another. How undeniably absurd.
Furthermore, how stupid do these players have to be to participate in a program that could wind up costing them more in the long run? If I were a Saints player that saw Jonathan Vilma slap $10,000 on the table while stating “This goes to the man that takes out Brett Favre,” I would tell him thanks but no thanks. If he asked me why, I’d point out that fines for late hits range anywhere from $7,500 to $50,000. Thus, the math doesn’t add up.
Why not play the game aggressively and violently, and then let the chips fall where they may? Why even have a “bounty program?” I would think that being able to play the game legally for millions of dollars would be all the motivation that these athletes needed not to want to hurt one another. After all, isn’t the NFL supposed to be a brotherhood? I’m shocked somebody hasn’t told Williams that playing the game aggressively yet legally while trying to win was all the motivation they needed.
At the end of the day, a coach and his players decided to provide extra motivation for one another by coming up with an illegal program to reward themselves for hurting opponents in an already violent game. While other players and teams might have their own bounty programs in place, the Saints were the ones who were caught and now have to be punished. Even though the Saints wound up winning the Super Bowl, the entire thing was unnecessary and hopefully Williams sees the error in his ways.
Other than that, why inflate this situation into something bigger than what it is?