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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Banshee on the Bounty

The big sports story for today was the emotional press conference held by Jim Irsay and Peyton Manning.  But, the early part of the week was dominated by talk of Bounty Gate.  This story broke on Friday afternoon.  So, I'm a little late with my reaction.  But, I had a specific request to post something on this topic.  A blog with a following as small as this one, I cannot ignore a request like that.

For those of you who follow this blog more for cooking tips and TV reviews, here is the basic gist of Bounty Gate:  The NFL has discovered that the New Orleans Saints had an organized program for several years that paid out cash rewards to defensive players for a variety of activities ... including, but not limited to, knocking opposing players out of games.  The bounty program was primarily funded by the players, but it was organized by members of the coaching staff.  Chief among them was defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ... now an assistant with the St. Louis Rams.  Head Coach Sean Payton and the team's GM have also acknowledged that they were aware of the bounty program.

So, after all that prelude, I am going to be as blunt as I can be.  The NFL must come down on the New Orleans Saints, and it must come down like a ton of bricks.  Now before anyone gets too worked up here ... I am not turning into a bleeding-heart liberal.  And I am not naive about the culture of football.  I know it's violent game.  As a seven year-old girl, I built a snow man with Vinny Testaverde's number on it and summarily destroyed it in preparation for the 1987 Fiesta Bowl.  And, I know that when my dad was playing on a freshman squad forty years ago, a coach placed a bounty on an opposing player.  I'm not condoning this bloodlust.  I am just trying to communicate that my opinion on the New Orleans Saints' situation does not come from an ivory tower of moral superiority.

The Saints must be punished severely for two reasons.  First, their conduct violates the NFL's collective bargaining agreement.  Second, the NFL is a business that must protect its public image.

1.  CBA Violation.  Odd as it may seem for such a high-paying profession, the NFL is governed by union bylaws and a collective bargaining agreement.  "Non-contract bonuses" are specifically prohibited by the current and past CBAs.  Therefore, pay-for-performance rewards that are not part of a player's written contract are not allowed.  That includes benign payouts for interceptions and fumbles as well as more malicious payouts for "knockout" injuries.  Another aspect of the CBA is the salary cap that each team must adhere to.  Granted, the sums of money involved in the Saints' bounty system were not large in comparison to the salaries being paid officially.  Nonetheless, any form of side payments that are organized by teams are a start down a slippery slope.  The NFL must punish the Saints severely to make it clear that the CBA cannot be side-stepped in any fashion.

2.  Business Image.  The NFL is, above all else, a business.  It exists to make money.  For quite a while now, the NFL has been a revenue-generating behemoth that is seemingly without peer.  But, in this country, there is a lot of competition for the entertainment dollar.  Therefore, the NFL needs to protect its image.  It's no secret that the NFL sells the brutal nature of its game.  But, the league cannot afford to actually cross the line from its current level of violence into a full on bloodsport.  Nor can it afford to appear to be crossing that line.  Bounty is a dirty word.  It just plain sounds bad.  And, it makes people feel bad, too.  Fans cheer raucously for a bone-jarring hit designed to separate a man from the ball.  But it's hard to feel fun about a bone jarring hit designed to injure a man in exchange for $1,500 in cash.  And the NFL must stay fun in order to stay wealthy.  Therefore, the NFL must come down hard on the Saints for openly embracing a bounty culture.