Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Quicker Picker Upper

courtesy of bountypapertowelcoupon.com

 Maybe you’ve heard something recently in the news about “Bountygate”.  It has been found out that the New Orleans Saints, led by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, were running a bounty system from 2009-2011.  The players were reportedly paid $1000 for “cart-offs” and $1500 for “knock-outs”.  The NFL is currently trying to figure out how to punish the Saints and those involved and there is even talk to possible criminal charges against Williams, who is now with St. Louis. 

Football is Violent

Let me start by saying football is a violent sport….duh.  From the moment kids start playing football, the harder you can hit the more respect you get.  Think about it.  In a pickup game of tackle football the people that everyone wants either have speed, an incredible arm, or can hit hard.  Even in the lower levels hitting hard is encouraged.  Players are going to get hurt.  Players are going to continue to get bigger and be taught to hit harder.  It’s the evolution of the game.  Get used to it.

courtesy of sportsrapplive.com
As far as “bounties” are concerned, they too are nothing new.  Think back to that pick-up game.  There was always that one player who was much faster than everybody else.  Everyone knows if you hit him hard when he’s going out for a pass or basically anytime you can it throws him off of his game.  While you weren’t getting any money, you did get the respect of the players for changing the course of the game and helping to “even” things out.  This led to being selected sooner in subsequent games.  I remember during my days playing middle school football, I had a coach (who will remain nameless…V) who would reward big hits or “crunches” with Nestle Crunch bars.  The whole concept of hitting hard therefore is then taught from the very beginnings of learning the game.  It doesn’t stop there though.  Once players get into high school and college, players get helmet stickers for, among other things, “big sticks”.  The most notable of these are the Ohio State Buckeye stickers.

Once players make it to the biggest stage of the all, the NFL, the stakes are much higher.  Contrary to what many people would like to believe, NFL players are playing for money.  Like it or not, it is their jobs.  Hell, I love teaching kids but if they didn’t pay me I'd be out.  Sorry kids, Mr. Montgomery needs to pay his bills.  As a teacher my shelf life is arguably 30-40 years.  The average shelf life for an NFL player?  Roughly 3.5 seasons. (Courtesy of NFLPlayers.com)   See where I’m going?  NFL players need to make as much money as quickly as possible.  Who gets the contract?  Just like that pick-up it’s the guys with the strongest arm, fastest legs, and yes those that hit the hardest.  So these guys are rewarded for hitting hard.  If these young kids can make a few extra dollars on the side by making some big hits, who cares?  Who knows how much longer they have in the league.  Don’t give me the "what about taxes bullshit".  It’s no worse than mowing someone’s yard for a few extra bucks.  Did you report that on your taxes this year?

Bounty Bowl

So where do bounties come into play in the NFL?  They have been around as long as the game itself.  Most notably back in 1989 the Eagles and Cowboys partook in the infamous “Bounty Bowl” where Eagles coach Buddy Ryan “allegedly” placed a bounty on Cowboys’ and ex-Eagles’ kicker Luis Zendajas.  It has to be noted that no punishments were ever handed out.  CBS which broadcasted the Eagles vs. Cowboys game 2 weeks later, advertised the game as “Bounty Bowl II”.  I know that this was almost 25 years ago but bounties were illegal back then but the NFL allowed the game to be promoted “Bounty Bowl II”?  Seems somewhat hypocritical to me.   

Hard Hits 

As I was watching Mike and Mike on ESPN this morning they were interviewing Marcellus Wiley, an ex-defensive player turned commentator.  His points were that informally this stuff goes on all the time in the NFL.  Guys are constantly shouting things like “1000 bucks for another big hit”.  He also told a story about how as an 11 year old he took a shot during a Pop Warner game.  When he spoke the player that hit him at an all-star game a few weeks later the player apologized for the hit and said his coach informed the team that if they took out Wiley, they could win.

That leads me to my next point.  Opponents of the Saints and the bounty scandal are saying that trying to “take out” an opposing player is wrong.  Uh, excuse me?  As an Eagles fan I see all the time, “If they can get hits on Vick, they’ll be in good shape.”  Hmmm….seems like a team’s game plan may be to put “hits” on Vick.  Going back to the Wiley Pop Warner story, was that coach wrong?  If you contain the best player doesn’t it give your team a better chance to win?  If you hit a player hard, aren’t you going to put some doubt in his mind for next time?  It’s all a part of the game.

courtesy of sportslogos.net
Do I have a problem with bounties in football?  Nope.  I feel hitting and injuries are a part of the game and actually makes the game that much more enjoyable.  Should players play dirty and take cheap shots?  Of course not.  However, if a player can put a “legal” hit on a player that can either put some doubt in the player’s mind or even “rough” him up a little bit then why not?  Again, if the hit is legal so what?  Football is a violent game.  People are going to get hurt.  Even in basketball there are such things as “hard fouls”.  The point?  Send a message to the player.  As long as the hits are within the rules what’s the problem?  If receiving a little monetary reward for hard hits motivates players, again as long as they aren’t playing dirty what’s the harm?  If you don’t want to get hurt, then don’t play.

Now What?

Is this situation messed up?  Yes.  Should there be punishments handed out?  Yes.  It’s against the rules of the league and they got caught.  You do the crime you do the time.  If this had been just between the players it would be one thing.  I would liken it to a March Madness pool at work.  Sure it’s illegal but it’s not as though the company is sponsoring it, it’s just something between co-workers.

courtesy of sportslogos.net
 This is an institutionalized bounty system which is clearly against the rules.  The issue that is being overlooked is that once this was first discovered the owner of the Saints informed the general manager to put a halt to the practice.  He didn’t.  Why is he not on the hot seat?  I know if I blatantly ignored something my boss told me to do, my ass would be punished.  Why is Gregg Williams the scapegoat here and not Mickey Loomis?  Sure Williams was the one that instituted the program and it’s coming out that he had similar programs in place in other coaching stops, but Loomis and owner Tom Benson are also responsible somewhere in this mess.

Will bounties ever truly be eliminated?  I doubt it.  As long as there are superstar players that make the difference in a game there will be bounties.  As long as quarterback hits and hurries are stats that the networks (including the NFL network, how’s that for hypocrisy) carrying the games keep, there will be bounties.  As long as schools like Ohio State give out helmet stickers, there will be bounties.  As long as there is that one guy who is far better than everyone else on the playground, there will be bounties.

Will all the punishments handed down by the NFL do away with “Institutionalized Bounties”?  Probably.  Will there always be those informal bounties?  Absolutely.  Look, if you tell me I can win a game by taking out the opposing team’s best player I’m going to try my damndest...as long as it’s not a cheap shot...to take the player out.  Until everyone has “equal” abilities, the bounties will be there.  Don’t like it?  Don’t watch.  What’s next, the National 2 Hand Touch League?  Until next time this is Jimbo saying, I’ve played in some pretty intense 2 hand touch games.