Anyone who is an NFL fan, and some who aren’t, are aware by now of the New Orleans Saints bounty system, or “pay for pain”.
Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was on the staff from 2009-2011, the time which was the subject of the league’s investigation, which culminated in a 50,000-page document. Cash bonuses were awarded to players who knocked opposing players out of the game due to injury, including bonuses for “cartoffs” or payouts to those whose hits caused players who had to be assisted off the field on a cart.
Many have said the league will come down much harder on the Saints then they did on the New England Patriots in 2007 for Spygate. Before I get into what should be done, though, I need to put a couple of tiresome canards in their place.
First – please stop with the “but this happens all over the league”. So did (or does) steroid use in the NFL and in Major League Baseball. “But Mom, Dad, everyone does it!” This type of rationalization is a fallacy known as the “appeal to common practice“. It’s also a form of moral adolescence. Good parents don’t let their kids get by with that bullshit. Good teachers and principals don’t let students use that. And Roger Goodell shouldn’t allow that lame reasoning to shield the Saints and Gregg Williams from accountability.
Furthermore, how do you know “everyone does it”? I’m not talking about bounties generally. I’m not talking about isolated cases of players targeting opponents in that manner, or of even a coach here and there who from time got carried away. I’m talking about an organized, systematic operation spearheaded by a defensive coordinator, with as many as 27 players participating, running for 3 seasons. Of which the head coach and general manager knew and did nothing to stop. And after the team had been warned by league officials to stop or else. Not to mention the general manager, Mickey Loomis, was ordered by owner Tom Benson to put a stop to it. Loomis ignored Benson’s order, which is blatant insubordination. Why Benson hasn’t yet fired him is beyond me. There is zero evidence of any other team having a whole elaborate system like this in place. So here “everyone else does it” is not fact-based but simply speculation based on belief.
Sometimes widespread practices are things that should be stamped out. And sometimes the only way to make new standards stick is to make a clear, unmistakable example of those who have been caught violating them. Observers need to be put on notice that those with the authority to mete out discipline mean business, and you test them to your own peril. It’s not perfectly fair, but sometimes it’s the only way to send a message that sinks in the right way. Besides, rules against bounties have been in place for a long time.
The second tiresome canard is this: “You might as well make the quarterback wear a skirt”. While I will grant that sometimes the league is overzealous in its efforts to protect quarterbacks and in its rules against hits on “defenseless receivers”, to state that due to this the league should stop emphasizing player safety so much is simply absurd. There’s a reason players are required to wear the equipment they wear, why there are rules against grabbing the facemask, against “spearing”, against taking shots at a quarterback’s knees, against blocking below the waist, chop blocking, clotheslining, etc. It isn’t only because the league is a business. Player safety is a matter of workplace conditions. The game is rough and violent already without players intentionally injuring one another. The league sees it as a moral duty to minimize practices that needlessly expose players to serious injury, and rightfully so. Using the Saints bounty scandal as evidence of the league going “soft” blows your credibility out of the water.
Now: what should be done? Remember, when Goodell instituted his personal conduct policy, he stated, and has reiterated several times over, that coaches and other personnel in positions of authority on will be held to a higher standard than the players. There’s what many think will happen, and there’s what I think.
Gregg Williams is the mastermind of this. His years with the Saints, as well as reports that he ran the same program during his tenure as defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins from 2004-2007, should get him thrown out of the league. Not fined, not suspended. Not even a lengthy suspension. These actions are so egregious, so openly defiant of league rules – even after a league-wide memo warning teams about this, so recklessly disregarding of player safety, and so much an assault against common decency, that to me, nothing less than a lifetime ban is sufficient. Make it easy on the St. Louis Rams, who hired recently hired Williams.
All of this happened under head coach Sean Peyton’s watch. He knew it was going on, and did absolutely nothing to stop it. In the NCAA things like this are considered “lack of institutional control”. There’s nothing yet pointing to him having direct involvement in the bounty program, but it is inexcusable for him not to even lift a finger to nip that hideous practice in the bud. Because he hasn’t been accused of direct involvement, he should serve a lengthy suspension without pay. I wouldn’t oppose him being sidelined for 6 games, although I personally would like to see him shelved for the entire 2012 season. I’ve already stated what I think should have already happened to General Manager Mickey Loomis.
The players involved knew damn well that what they were doing, and that it is wrong, so the Nuremberg defense “I was just following orders” should not fly. I think everyone of the players involved should also be suspended for the entire 2012 season. Not all involved are still on the Saints roster. That makes no difference to me, though. Many still are. The Saints should, in effect, be forced to field a defense full of scout-team players. If that means they surrender 625 points next season, well, all of those involved should have thought of the possible consequences between 2009 and 2011.
Strip them of all of their 2012 draft choices too. Maybe sanctions such as these will be the necessary warning shot fired to remind everyone in the NFL that disgusting practices like this will not be tolerated, and that those caught engaging in them will have no quarter.