Bounties are wrong, but it doesn’t really bother me that much

To me, morality is fine, but fake morality isn’t.

I’d be lying to all of you if I proclaimed that the bounties that are being reported for knocking players out of NFL games is shocking or even all that bothersome. In fact, it is so unsurprising that I am a little bit shocked it has come up and become an actual issue to the extent that it is the last few days. Is it wrong? Yeah. Of course it is. I hate to see guys get knocked out of games. Ultimately it just doesn’t seem like something that was causing big, bad defensive players to do anything that they wouldn’t have been trying to do anyway.

The hit on Kurt Warner by Bobby McCray does in fact look worse once you find out about the bounty program allegedly in place at the time. It does seem a bit dirtier knowing that McCray might have gained financially from the hit. Does it really matter that he got paid though? It was a vicious hit regardless and the real problem in my mind were the rules and the way that Gregg Williams was coaching his guys.

Plays like that were reflective of a culture that the NFL has been working to change over the last few years. Attempting to behead a player that isn’t looking isn’t allowed anymore. Exhibit A is that players like James Harrison are made examples when they launch themselves into quarterbacks like missiles.

Only in that hindsight knowing about the new rules am I upset about them. You don’t look back in time and get furious that people smoked around you in bars because the rules changed and now it is illegal. Similarly you can’t go back to a time before the rules were put in place and get all hot and bothered that a team was looking to knock people out of the game.

That was standard operating procedure in a game we have all loved for years. Even those of us who weren’t alive for the Turkey Jones suplex of Terry Bradshaw have a fond appreciation for it today. That doesn’t mean we would be alright with Phil Taylor doing it to Ben Roethlisberger. It might seem like fun, but the penalties and embarrassment to the Browns wouldn’t be worth it now. Remember how silly Steelers fans looked this year trying to defend James Harrison’s hit on Colt McCoy?

Things have changed and that means for things going forward. If you need to look back and agree that things came to a head, then I think that is appropriate. Kurt Warner weighed in on the topic last week.

“I don’t think this is unique. It may be unique in extent to the money or if coaches were involved. I understand they were levying a bounty. But were they going out and cheap shotting guys? That is something I would definitely look into.”

Warner called Saints defensive end Bobby McCray’s vicious, 2009 postseason hit against him “clean” and said the legal hit put “a nice exclamation point” on his pre-determined decision to retire Jan. 29, 2010. But he said Friday’s revelation about the Saints bounty program in which players were rewarded for knockout hits was most upsetting to his wife and seven children.

Seems about right. It is upsetting and that’s why things had to change. To pretend that it is surprising is revisionist history at best and moral grandstanding at worst. It was wrong. It was illegal. It is an indication of just how broken the system was, but it isn’t at all surprising because of the violent nature of NFL football. There will always be incentive for teams to make violent, hard, legal hits on offensive playmakers, especially quarterbacks.

The system needed to put some restraint on those goals and it did by redefining what hits were legal. The money in a bounty system makes a little bit worse, but not much. The money just helped reinforce the culture that was alive and well in the league anyway.

(Photo Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

  • Jack

    Sick of the NFL players. Really sickening to listen to them cry foul as the NFL pushes for an 18 game season, suggesting the league doesn’t have their health at heart, and then you “learn” how pervasive this culture is…

    …I think it’s a big deal because it’s a big dent in that defense. 

    Potential ancillary benefit: Redskins get docked a draft choice…

  •  Its being reported it could be worse the NE’s spygate penalty which was a 1st rounder. That would be huge if you are an RG3 guy (like me). It would force STL/Min to stay put and pick or to pick RG3 and hope they can work out a trade.

  •  What exactly is the bounty thing? I know it was if you knock somone out of the game, but were they getting paid for TOs or sacks, etc? I havent read into it too much.

  •  Yes, well said.  The players (some, of course, not all) are talking out of both sides of their mouth on the health issue.  They will complain that the league doesn’t care about their well-being and then have this bounty system.  Hypocrites all the way around.

  • An interesting point. I wonder if we’ll ever get a split in the players union between the offense and the defense. The only ones who can “knock” guys out of games are defensive guys really. 

  • Wow

    Considering how bad their defense was, they didn’t do a good job at this bounty thing.

  • Jack

    Wouldn’t be surprised. You would think there might be some resentment building there. We are talking about guys’ careers + limited earning window. 

    I just keep thinking about the players’ union rallying against 18 games and calling the league hypocrites for claiming to care about health but pushing to profit at additional risk of injury (i.e. +2 games)

    But then the players:
    1) Publicly attack the commish and the league for trying to limit violent play. Not a lot of fans seem to worry that those rules are going to ruin the game. The players seem to be lamenting the rule changes, throwing around “flag/touch football” and the like…

    2) Willingly participate in these bounty schemes.

    May be tougher to maintain public solidarity in opposition to 18 games with these two facts in mind.

    Mark Schlereth waving around a DVD on SportsCenter and calling the league hypocrites because they profit from big hits probably isn’t going to play as well now that we know players themselves were profiting from those hits.

    Non-businessmen/politicians trying to play business/politics. Silly things will happen.

  • LeoCapp

    While this is bad….i don’t believe its worse than NE Spygate saga. The latter was pure cheating, while this bounty was just pure stupidity in which enough players confessed to doing. For NE it took former asst. (Mangini!) to whistle blow about it and all NE brass including Belichick got all upset about it. 

    If its proven that Gregg Williams did this bounty with the Redskins earlier this decade then he shouldn’t coach again in any facet of the NFL. Doing it once its like okay but having done it twice in a decade span is like wtf. Very surprised a so called ‘classy’ organization like the Saints fell into this stupid game…unreal

  • BenRM

    I think if someone is deeply bothered by this, then they need to watch soccer, instead.

  • BenRM

    I believe that was a part of it as well. You were rewarded for INTs and stuff as well as taking a guy out for a play or two. 

  • saggy

    just my 2-cents – i loved Kurt Warner.  his story was great and his RESPECT for the game was always apparent.  He got laid out on a legal play, and i think the announcer says it best when he says he has the utmost respect for Warner for trying to make a tackle on that play.  He just got lit up.  

    As for the health of the players crap:  whatever.  they are gonna cut out 2 preseason games.  i get so sick of “fourth tie-breakers” deciding the playoffs every year.  add 2 more games and teams will clinch later, and tie-breakers will sort themselves out better.  it’s a good thing, in my opinion.  also, it forces you to use your whole bench.  I am enjoying the NBA for the first time in a long time because teams are forced to go 11 deep with their rotations.  Makes it a real TEAM game.  

  • porkchpxprss

    Not to be a wet blanket, and I guess it could happen but I would be stunned if they took a pick from the Redskins.  Number one, it was 5 years ago, number 2 you are going to have to implicate St. Joe Gibbs as a co-conspirator as Payton is in NO.  Number 3 I think taking draft picks is really the highest form of punishment the league can hand down and they will reserve it for only the highest crime, which is damaging the crediblitly of gambling lines which is why spygate was really so serious. 

  • Garry_Owen

    I really don’t understand the outrage over this at all. 

    When we played in high school and college, big hits were awarded with a “skull” or some other sticker.  It’s not like we went out on each play trying to earn a skull sticker for our helmets, but it sure was fun on Saturday or Monday morning when the coach handed you one.  To me, it’s the same thing with these so-called “bounties” in the NFL.  To these guys, $50, $100, or even $1000 have the same relative value as a sticker on a helmet (which they can’t get, anyway).  Maybe the NFL should just authorize helmet stickers. 

    Maybe – maybe – having varying degrees of reward for “taking guys out of games” is more unseemly, but I hesitate to believe that more than a handful of players are actively trying to injure or maim on a given play, or are incentivized by a meager monetary reward to do so.  Those that do try to injure or maim (Harrison) are trying to do it on every play.  It’s just how they play the game.  The “bounty” can’t have much impact on that, except for a good Monday or Tuesday morning ex post facto celebration. 

    If you’re a defensive player in the NFL, you have about 3 seconds to get off the line, make a move on your blocker, get to the QB or ball carrier, and then make a hit or a play.  I understand that the game moves very slowly to these guys, but I just can’t imagine that in the space of those 3 seconds, they’re thinking “and if I hit the guy just right in the knee, I’ll get two Benjamins on Tuesday!” 

    /rant ended

  • floydrubino

    It’s obvious why gregg williams has been in the league for so long now, job security. Players play harder for him because it financially benefits them. The players that intentionally try to hurt people anyways are already playing for a bounty every game. It’s called a contract. The bigger the hits the more they are payed. The only way to keep this stuff out is the actual players have to guard against this themselves. I think it’s such a brutal aggressive game that you have to have a team that will pay back any player that takes a cheap shot on one of yours. I’m not saying that it is right but it is the only way to deter people is to know they will payed back for cheap play. Like move a monster tight end out on the edge and when james harrison is running down the line following a run try to lay him out over and over the way that he did to colt. Try to spend one full game having tj ward go after heinz ward to hit him when the play isn’t even around him the way that heinz has done to other players for years. Until there is some real penalty for players like losing games you aren’t going to stop these cheap players. Why should James Harrison spend the whole game with the mentality of I gotta hurt this guy when we can’t have the mentality of we gotta take harrison out before he hurts one of our guys.