Call the players in the New Orleans Saints who allegedly tried to take away the health, livelihood, and career of opposing players what they truly are: criminals. Call defensive coordinator Gregg Williams and the coaches who allegedly administered the bounty, what they are: criminal masterminds. Call the coaches and others who allegedly knew about the bounty and turned a blind eye to it what they are: co-conspirators. Call the felon friend of the Saints Mike Ornstein who allegedly funded the bounty program with thousands of dollars what he is: a twice convicted felon. Call the bounty program that allegedly sought to hurt, maim, destroy and purposely injure high-powered football players what it is: criminal. This is organized crime at its worse -- nothing less.
No, I am not questioning teams and specific defensive players that deliver hard hits in the NFL. I am not questioning rewards or extra monetary incentives given to players for interceptions, multi-tackles, fumbles or knocking the ball loose (If such payments are technically improper under the current umbrella contract, that is not the focus of this article. I see nothing morally wrong with off the table incentives or player among player side bets.). I am not questioning the hard hit, the harder hit, or the brilliantly beautiful hardest hit "Mano-a-Mano." I am talking about the cheap shot. I am questioning assaults and batteries of the gravest degrees. When you put a bounty to take a player out of a game you are also placing the potential of his livelihood, his family, his career, and his health on the line. But putting a bounty on players to intentionally hurt or maim them does not belong in football. And I say this as a New Orleans Saints fan. The winning Saints brought a lot of attention, hope, loyal emotion and money back into a Katrina ravaged city. It is a delight to watch Drew Brees play. He was the quarterback I picked to lead my fantasy football team. But being a fan should not blind anyone to the important issues concerning a bounty program.
Do not get me wrong. Nothing should stop the power and the hard hitting of these massive athletes at the speed they are running. Players expect to get nailed and hit hard, I am not advocating for that to end. The fans do not want that to stop. I do not want that to stop. That is football. But hitting in the back of the neck or in the back of knees or any other vulnerable area to try to bring a player down is dead wrong and criminal. If you do that, you are a headhunter, only playing the game to injure and maim. Hitting the neck to take a player out gives new importance to the decision of whether Peyton Manning really can play football in this type of atmosphere. After having numerous cervical neck surgeries, a bounty hit of this type could end his life not just his career.
Football is a different game today than it was in the 1960s. It is no longer the Lombardi-era where players ran for three yards and a cloud of dust. It is a modern era that was popularized by Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and others. The fans love watching a thrilling throwing game -- a 500-yard game by a great quarterback is exciting. A score of 42-35 is fabulous entertainment. At the same time, the players have become bigger, stronger, faster and hit harder. If this strength is utilized in the wrong way they become hired assassins. Their bodies are weapons. There is so much more now known about the damage that even a slight head injury can cause than was known during the "Deacon Jones" era. Brain damage is not a sport.
It does not take much to cheap shot a lineman. All you need to do is use your head and helmet as a missile against the head, back or other unprotected areas of an opposing player. When you give money to a player who causes the helmet to fly off an opponent -- that is outrageous. A mere 15-yard penalty for clipping -- an injury that can take out the knee of a player so that he is never stable again is not enough. A lineman can get blindsided, can topple over, and can get torn ligaments in his knees. But to place a bounty to deliberately do this, with a purposeful assault and with a specific intent calculated to destroy life and limbs, is not in the playbook. The New York Post this past Tuesday ran a back page cover of a play in 2009 where New Orleans Roman Harper hit Eli Manning in Manning's upper back/neck area with his head/helmet -- causing both Manning's neck to snap and his helmet to become displaced. Was this a bounty hit? You make the call.
In my opinion the "James Harrisons" of football, currently a Pittsburgh Steeler, should be thrown out of the game. A short suspension and a $50,000 fine imposed by the NFL does not remedy this situation. Gregg Williams should be chucked out of football along with anybody else that subscribes to career-ending injuries. If you don't wish to eject them, then at least suspend them for a very long time. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to take a clear, strong and effective action against Williams who is now with the Rams. Owners need to give a dictum: no bounty that involves maiming. All owners should fire coaches, general managers and all that seek to plan physical injury and impart violence in a criminal matter. It is not sport to try to illegally cripple someone -- it is an execution. It is not much different then engaging someone to inflict injury on a player circa Tonya Harding hiring someone to take out the knees of her rival Nancy Kerrigan. What if the bounty hunters hired a hit man to shoot an opposing star quarterback? Once you are outside the realm of fair sport, the degree is irrelevant.
Players, ask yourself this question: Are you a football player or an assassin? For those who cannot see the difference, it is time to call the "Fletcher Christians" of the football world to lead the mutiny.
Follow Linda Kenney Baden on Twitter: www.twitter.com/kenneybaden