Monday, March 5, 2012

Monday's Musings on Sports - Mutiny of the Bounty?

Today, sports radio and the Internet was dominated by discussions of a story about the New Orleans Saints and a bounty program which was administered by former defensive assistant coach Gregg Williams. According to the news reports, over the last three years, Saints players were rewarded for inflicting game-ending injuries on targeted players. If a player was knocked out of the game, the defensive player was paid $1,500 and of a player had to be helped off the field by cart, the Saints player was paid $1,000. Reportedly, payments were doubled or tripled for the playoffs.

During the day, the story evolved to include reports that Saints' Head Coach Sean Payton and General Manager Mickey Loomis were aware of the bounties that had been taken out on opposing players. Speculation abounded that the Saints could be fined and possibly required to forfeit draft picks. If specific players were found to have intentionally injured other players, they could be subject to suspension and fines as well.

An interesting subplot involves the St Louis Rams who are not accused of being involved in the bounty pool. Williams is now an assistant coach with the Rams and if he is suspended for his role in the pool, the Rams would lose his services for all or part of their season. While they would not be required to pay Williams during the suspension, they still would lose a valuable member of their coaching staff during the season.

In listening to interview with former players, I was struck by the dichotomy between the media and the players. Defensive players who were interviewed largely viewed this as an unwritten rule which seems to exist in many locker rooms. It made me think back to a story a number of years ago about Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers. I remember that after his leg was broken, rumours circulated that the Baltimore Ravens had a bounty out on Mendenhall as well as Steelers WR Hines Ward.

While NFL players were not surprised and even seemed to tacitly condone these actions, media members who were not former jocks were aghast that these pools could be allowed to exist or were even encouraged by management.

It was hard not to find fault with the players for employing the bounty system. While I like seeing a hard (but clean) tackle, I can't see how an industry allows itself to have its star players taken out of games. Indeed, while modern medicine has progressed, some of these players suffered career ending injuries, many of which impacted on their daily lives beyond football.

I also heard an interesting take on this from Colin Cowherd at the beginning of his show. During the brief snippet that I heard at the top of the show, Colin mentioned that there are two things that could bring down the NFL - the government and lawsuits. There have been a number of recent filings wherein former players who have suffered from a wide range of illness (physical and mental) have asserted that the NFL knew or should have known about the concussions which were occurring and were more interested in glorifying big hits than player safety.

I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet, but the thought advanced by Colin has real logic. If former players can demonstrate that the league and the various teams knew that the players were truly cannon fodder, they could potentially bankrupt the league with lawsuits and payouts.

The concept of the players knowingly targeting stars made me think about a mashal that I read about Haman and his attitude toward the Jews. As written in the sefer Mor V'Hadas on Purim, Haman's attempt to wipe out the Jews because Mordechai would not bow down to him was compared to the actions of a very upset bird. The bird had built a nest near the water and the nest was soon crushed by a large wave. As a reaction, the bird began to scoop water out of the sea with his beak and dump it on the shore. The bird would then take some sand in its beak and dump the sand in the sea. The bird repeated and repeated this until it was stopped by another bird which said to him - what can you possibly hope to accomplish? All that you will do is exhaust yourself! However, to this bird which was caught up in the moment, there was no stopping him.

If the players truly targeted their own in an attempt to injure and possibly end the careers of star players, they really were acting illogically. People tune in to watch offense as much, if not more than defense. If the star players are constantly being knocked out and replaced by lesser skilled players, people will be less interested in watching football and will turn to other sports instead.

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