NFL

Ban the 'bounty' bums, but blame culture

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Greg Couch

Greg Couch has been a national columnist at AOL Fanhouse and The Sporting News and an award-winning columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. He was featured twice in "Best American Sports Writing" and was recognized by the US Tennis Writers Association for best column writing and match coverage. He covers tennis on his personal blog. Follow him on Twitter.

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Don’t be shocked. Don’t be surprised. Don’t even ask how. Football, the false American dream, has struck again. That’s all.

In 2009, we thought the New Orleans Saints were the cuddly, feel-good story of the NFL, winning the Super Bowl for a town that needed something to cheer for after Hurricane Katrina.

Turns out, according to an NFL investigation released Friday, that was the year a bounty system, administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, reached its height — a system that, over three years, included between 22 and 27 players and totaled up to $50,000.

It gave players cash rewards for hurting opponents — a thousand bucks for a knockout, $1,500 for a cart-off.

The report says that Saints head coach Sean Payton didn’t help to put the system in place, but did nothing when he found out about it.

Nothing. Didn’t stop it. Didn’t look into it. Didn’t tell anyone that they shouldn’t do it.

If that’s true, then Sean Payton should be fired.

Already, players are looking back, wondering publicly if they were victims of the bounty system. Kurt Warner took a big hit from the Saints in the 2010 playoffs. Was he a target? Jay Cutler? Adrian Peterson?

Before the NFC Championship Game in 2010, Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered a $10,000 bounty — according to Sports Illustrated — to knock Brett Favre out of the game.

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Bounties aren’t new in the NFL. What’s new is medical fears about the game. What’s new is Dave Duerson committing suicide because he was forgetting phone numbers and addresses and addition and subtraction. He couldn’t face the future. What’s new is the knowledge about the connection between football and concussions and former players’ brains turning to mush.

So why does anyone do this? It’s the NFL, that’s why. It’s the culture not only of the league, but also of the sport that parents across the country are dying to put their kids into. Think again, parents.

Football glory is a big lie.

"It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of the game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety, and we are not going to relent."

Progress in changing the culture? Oh, please.

Yes, Goodell put in rules against head shots. But let’s be real: The offensive and defensive linemen are smashing heads the whole game. The only people who aren’t allowed to do it now are the ones people clearly see when they’re watching games on TV.

The culture has not changed. And if you’re shocked by what the Saints have done, then you’re going to accept the pitch to blame the whole thing on Williams. See, if it’s the fault of one person, or a small group, then you can get rid of those individuals and everything looks clean, right?

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The Washington Post reported that Williams had a similar program in place when he was the defensive coordinator for the Redskins, too. But look, he didn’t invent the idea. And these players are not children. They know that players from the past are drooling on themselves now, and today's players didn’t have any problem ponying up for the bounty pool.

Apparently, real men turn other men into vegetables.

Those players all need to be suspended, and fined. The NFL fined Patriots coach Bill Belichick $500,000 and the team $250,000 over Spygate in 2007. Spygate was nothing compared to this.

These fines are going to hit seven figures.

As for Williams, now the coordinator with the Rams, he needs to be kicked out. He issued this apology, through the Rams:

"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it. Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry."

It would be nice if Payton would say something like that, too.

Are we supposed to think the Saints are dirtier than other teams now? That’s what the NFL is going to want you to think. Don’t kid yourself.

"It’s definitely disappointing, but I won’t say that I’m completely surprised," Warner told KTAR Radio in Phoenix, via ProFootballTalk.com.

"And, again, not necessarily the Saints, but I’m not surprised that there were teams out there doing those kinds of things behind closed doors … I think that’s part of the game, and I think that’s part of the mindset."

This is a sport built on aggression and pain and testosterone. You can’t take all of that out of the game. All the league can do — for fans and NFL attorneys in future lawsuits — is make it appear that it is doing all it can do.

The problem is that the lawsuits from ex-players are going to start rolling in, especially if the Duerson family wins big. Meanwhile, studies are starting to see an increase in parents who don’t want their kids playing football.

Researchers at Virginia Tech and Wake Forest did a study measuring the head impact on youth football players. It was believed to be the first such study on youth football. It looked at seven players, ages 7 and 8, in Virginia.

As reported by ESPN, the study showed that the average player suffered 107 shots to the head over the course of 9.4 practices and 4.7 games.

This is a serious threat to the NFL. It’s the players of the past and the future attacking at the same time. At some point, people might start feeling sick to their stomachs when watching the game, cheering big hits and wondering what happens to a brain as it crashes off one side of the skull.

That’s what makes the Saints scandal so awful. The players knew.

Williams knew. Payton knew. Players and coaches around the league know.

They can’t help themselves. So, $1,500 for a cart-off? This is what they were taught, what they were groomed for. It is their dream.

Tagged: Saints

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