The team's players were rewarded for injuring their opponents. Is this kind of thing just part of the game?
Every week, our panel of sports fans discusses a topic of the moment. For today's conversation, Jake Simpson (writer, The Atlantic), Hampton Stevens (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic), and Patrick Hruby (writer, ESPN and The Atlantic) talk about pro football's latest shakeup.
As George Thorogood would say: "And aWAYYY we go!"
It takes a big story to keep Peyton Manning, free agent, from dominating the news cycle. And news that the New Orleans Saints had a "bounty program" to hurt opposing players has certainly been that. An NFL investigation into the program found that under the watchful eye of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, Saints defenders would earn $1,000 from the slush fund if they hit a guy so hard he had to be carted off the field—if they knocked the opposing player out, the bounty rose to $1,500. For special occasions, the bounty rose, like when linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the game in the Saints' 2010 NFC Championship Game against the Vikings.
The moral outrage from the media has been swift and sanctimonious. ESPN's Gregg Easterbrook dubbed the bounty program SinnersGate (pretty lame, I know) and said it's a bigger scandal than SpyGate. Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski wrote: "This bounty-hunting business seems to me to be unethical and immoral on about a thousand different levels."
My response to the whole bounty program? Um, DUH.
It's inconceivable to be that anyone with even half a brain could watch football—on any level from high school to the pros—and not think that it's an inherently brutal sport that demands uncivilized levels of violence. If you're really outraged by this, don't watch football. If you're outraged because you believe it tarnishes the "integrity" of a game where the goal of each play is to bring a man to the ground in basically any way you can, then you're a hypocrite of the highest order.
For more, let's turn to angry Deadspin sports columnist and former high school football player Drew Magary:
I must again reiterate that football is an inherently violent and inhumane sport, and that anyone who watches it makes a pact with themselves that it's violent, but that's OK because it's grown men playing it and it's AWESOME to watch. It was never a beautiful sport. Ever. If you ever played football, you know that pain and suffering are inflicted on someone virtually every play.
I watch football with open eyes, understand that savagery and inhuman acts are as much a part of the game as touchdowns, and plan on keeping my children away from football as much as possible. But maybe I'm too sanguine about this. What say you, Hampton?