Sports columnists and commentators across the country love to play the “good guy vs. the bad guy” game. Target the bad guy and try to bury him. Identify the good guy, paint him as super human. and place him on a pedestal. (At least for a time, until there’s a slip up, and then they attack the sports personality they helped put on the pedestal as a newly identified bad guy. Beware Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin.)

Most columnists and commentators are coming down hard on the New Orleans Saints’ former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, head coach Sean Payton, and general manager Mickey Loomis in the NFL bounty hunting story. Others are ripping the numerous players who have taken a “It’s no big deal, it happens all the time” attitude toward the news.

This kind of thinking on the part of players is simply an example of the hegemonic influence elite football players have been under since Pop Warner days, when they were first taught to see the other team as the enemy and instructed to pummel them. By the time they reach the NFL, these players have been brainwashed to the point where they willingly try to maim their peers in the league, as we see in the Saints case. They happily lead with their heads when tackling, making themselves human missiles in an effort to better inflict pain on their opponent, while endangering their own health. These athletes have forgotten — if they ever were taught in the first place — that opponents aren’t the enemy but fellow competitors, required in order to have a game, and to test one’s self.

The few players who see something wrong with the bounty system don’t have the courage to stand up to their teammates and coaches and say, “No, this isn’t right.” Weren’t today’s NFL players ever taught to compete within the spirit and letter of the rules? Purposely going on to the field to try to injure one’s opponent — and record “knock outs” and “cart offs” in order to win money from the team’s bounty pool — is disgusting to anyone who cares even slightly about the concept of sportsmanship.

The coaches and executives who are aware of these types of schemes certainly aren’t the good guys here. They were willing to sacrifice the short-and-long-term health of players on other teams in order to get more wins. Classic win-at-all-costs (WAAC) thinking. Have they no shame? Do they care nothing about the integrity of the game?

The owners and commissioner Roger Goodell certainly aren’t the good guys, despite coming out strong publicly against such behavior. If you look close enough, you can see the PR hacks pushing the owners out the door to face the media with their talking points and key message slates in hand.

Goodell and the owners want one thing: to sell as much violence as we can stand, and when it comes to football we can stand a lot. As Dave Ziren put it, the NFL is a business whose primary objective is to “present raw violence in a way that’s palatable for mass consumption.” NFL owners don’t like it when health and legal issues get in the way of that objective. That’s why Goodell and the owners denied for years any connection between their product and concussions (and the lifelong impact those concussions have on the league’s players).

The owners and Goodell are not really appalled by the revelations of “cart off” and “knock out” bounties in New Orleans. They’re appalled that this barbaric practice came to light and that they’re going to have to take steps to make the game safer and — in their minds — risk losing the rabid fans who need their weekly violence fix. They’ve already had to take steps to make the game safer, and thus less violent, because of the numerous concussion lawsuits they’ve been hit with by former players.

Undoubtedly, the football networks aren’t happy either with the trend to make the game safer. They’re bummed because it’s no longer kosher to run popular features that glorify violent hits that knock players silly. Paul Zimmerman once had this to say about ESPN’s “Jacked Up” feature:

You ever watch that “Jacked Up!” thing before the Monday night game? Some poor guy gets leveled with a kill-shot, and the yahoos in the studio all yell, “Jacked Up!” I think I wrote this last year but I’ll repeat it, if you don’t mind. Those network commentators were born into the wrong era. They’d have been right at home in 17th or 18th Century England, enjoying a nice outing at a public hanging. And when the trap is released and the poor guy is hung, they’d all yell, “Jacked Up!”

Nobody’s pure in this situation. Not even the game, which has an inherent flaw: it’s too violent for human health.

The Saints bounty case is an example of sport at its worst; an ugly mess driven once again by the enemies of pure sport: ego and greed.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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