Pay for Play

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Greg Williams was part of a bounty scheme during his tenure with the Saints and Redskins. If you’ve watched ESPN in the last 24 hours you’re inundated with this story. But is it a story? Certainly the league should and will crack down on a coach, GM, and other high ranking club officials endorsing or acting with knowledge that a bounty system was in place, paying out for such things “knock outs”, “cart offs”, and the like.

Be appalled or not, but this sort of thing is carried out unofficially in just about every locker room in the NFL, NHL and even MLB. In the NHL, it’s not uncommon for a player to tape a couple hundred bucks to the dry erase board for the first guy who puts a hit on an opposing player. In the NFL, famously, Buddy Ryan allegedly put a bounty on the Dallas Cowboys kicker.  I’m not endorsing violence in the sports realm that’s aimed at intentional injury, BUT…the league makes a ton of cash off of the violent aspects of the game. When was the last time the NFL Network or ESPN or anyone for that matter didn’t show a hard hit, legal or not, in its highlight package.

Last I checked defensive players are compensated rather well for their ability to bring physical punishment to the playing field. Al Davis, in his now famous axiom of the game, said that in the first five to ten minutes of a game the quarterback must go down and go down hard. The NFL is a game of physical dominance, there is no denying that. The fact that the best and baddest are typically the highest paid seems to indicate that the pays for pain to some degree. Greg Lloyd famously wore a shirt in pregame that said “I wasn’t hired for my disposition”. As a matter of fact the quickest way to lose your reputation or get a ticket out of the league is to play “soft”.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is made by Matt Bowen former safety under Greg Williams in Washington.

That’s right. We got paid for big hits, clean hits by the rule book. Money came in for more than watching a guy leave the field. We earned extra for interceptions, sacks and forced fumbles. If the till wasn’t paid out, we just rolled it over. Money jumped in the playoffs. A bigger stage equaled more coin. Instead of a few hundred dollars, now you got a thousand, maybe more, depending on the player. That’s the truth. I can’t sugarcoat this. It was a system we all bought into. I ate it up.

Some day, when my three sons grow up, I will make clear to them that this league isn’t for everyone. No doubt, it can be downright disgusting living by a win-at-all-costs mentality. It’s a fundamental part of the NFL’s culture that isn’t talked about outside of team facilities.

I’m not saying it’s right. Or ethical. But the NFL isn’t little league football with neighborhood dads playing head coach. This is the business of winning. If that means stepping over some line, you do it.

Anyone disagree with any of that? It’s hard to given the system these guys play under. Now you’ll start hearing from two different factions, those who agree with the essence of what Matt Bowen is saying and those who will be offended by the very notion of the system. You’ll also get a fair amount of guys injured against the Saints who will blame the bounty system and not the inherent qualities of professional football. It’s easy to be offended, it takes a bit more time and effort to look at the overall picture and realize the league is built on violence, bounty or contract driven doesn’t really matter.

By the way Greg, while you’re unemployed here in a few weeks, ponder why you didn’t put a bigger wad of cash on Vernon Davis, that guy killed you. I wonder if Vernon got a bonus for deconstructing the Saints defense?

Posted on May 1, 2012 and filed under Sports.