By NICK CHILES
In a swift and surprisingly hard-hitting move, the NFL yesterday suspended New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton for a year for lying and covering up the “bounty” system used by his coaches to financially reward players for purposely injuring players on opposing teams. The coach who implemented the bounty, former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, has been suspended by the league indefinitely, while the Saints general manager Mickey Loomis has been suspended eight games, with a $500,000 fine.
I have written before about how disgusted I was by this bounty system, which reduces the players across the line of scrimmage from human beings into flesh-and-blood dollar signs devoid of humanity. I was outraged that the players and coaches in the NFL didn’t understand the public’s anger at the bounty system, indicating that they were too far removed from the reasons they began playing the game in the beginning, long before they got paid to do it. But I’m pleased that apparently the NFL gets it. The league realized that it had to restore some sanity to the situation, to quickly remove the image of NFL players as heartless, cold-blooded mercenaries, to let parents know that it’s okay to allow our children to root for these guys on the field.
In addition to Payton’s suspension, the Saints will lose their second round draft pick in 2012 and 2013 and pay a fine of $500,000. Williams, who is the current defensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams, was the architect of the team’s bounty system, which he admitted he also implemented with several other NFL teams during his years in the league. In its statement, the NFL said that it will revisit the issue to mete out discipline to individual players.
“A combination of elements made this matter particularly unusual and egregious,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in the statement. “When there is targeting of players for injury and cash rewards over a three-year period, the involvement of the coaching staff, and three years of denials and willful disrespect of the rules, a strong and lasting message must be sent that such conduct is totally unacceptable and has no place in the game.”
The league statement said specific players were sometimes targeted, such as quarterbacks Brett Favre, Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and Kurt Warner. Saints defensive captain Jonathan Vilma reportedly offered $10,000 to any player who knocked Brett Favre out of the NFC Championship Game in 2010.
It’s not hard to imagine how this brutal, mercenary approach to the sport by the professionals eventually moves down to our children. As an NFL season ticket holder for the past three years, I would not be interested in bringing my son and daughters to a game that I know is devoid of a heart and soul. Already, there is too much wanton violence being committed by young athletes, who are too quick to resort to cheap shots when they feel wronged during a game. A popular video circulating around the web shows a 10-year-old white boy in China kicking a Chinese opponent on the soccer field. Apparently, the two teams had a grudge against each other, and the boy went out onto the field and, in the middle of a play, stomped the Chinese player in the head while he was on the ground. The Chinese kid’s parents pressed charges and the boy was arrested. Thanks to the NFL, is this now the American way?
Let’s hope that the other NFL teams and coaches have gotten the league’s message: it is possible to play clean, hard-hitting football without trying to maim or paralyze your opponent. Not only is it possible, it is preferable.