ESPN seems to be taking all the wrong angles on this story, in my opinion. I keep hearing former players turned analyst saying over and over again how this kind of thing happens in every locker room and that the players are already trying to hit each other hard in the first place so what’s the big deal. The big deal here is that I don’t think a bounty system or a pay-for-performance program to this magnitude is really going on in every locker room. I don’t think that defensive coordinators in every locker room are paying players to injure other opponents on a regular basis. This bounty system crossed the line with coaches and even general manager participation and encouragement. Besides the point that New Orleans was warned in 2009 about the bounties and continued to do it.
Roger Goodell is going to take this opportunity to crucify Gregg Williams and further promote his cause of “player safety” while still pushing his 18 game season through the back door. I’m not sure how they are going to review all of New Orleans hits to see I they were legal or not or even if they will. In my opinion, to know now that all of their defensive hits were motivated by these bounties makes them all illegal. I know going into watching a game of football that the object of the defensive players (and offensive players if your name is Hines Ward) is to hit the opposing player as hard as you can. That’s what they’re taught since the first time they put on a helmet and that’s what their coaches should be instructing them to do. From that injuries can occur. Players on both sides of the ball are very much aware of that, as are the fans. What bothers me about this bounty program is if a player is already trying to hit the other player as hard as he can, why have to add a cash incentive on top of it? What kind of player are you that you need to have $1,500 riding on you performing at the best of your ability? It can’t possibly be for clean, legal hits if you have to put a cash prize on it. Did the Saints defense really need to put a $10K bounty on Brett Favre’s head in order to play hard in the NFC Championship game?
The other side of this is the cheating aspect. And I’m not talking about the competitive advantage like say the Patriots earned by watching video tapes of opponents signals, but the knowingly breaking the rules part of it. The CBA clearly addresses bounties and bonuses outside of contracts for performance as do the players contracts themselves. On top of that the league sent memos to all the teams specifically indicating that bounties were directly against league rules. The fact that a coach and his players ignored all of this really rubs fans the wrong way. You know what we have to do in our jobs every day? Follow the rules. We weren’t born with athletic talents, therefore we have to follow all laws and rules or we have to face consequences. The Saints were violating the CBA as well as the salary cap by giving cash bonuses to players without it being counted towards their salaries or even taxed. Goodell will always be criticized for the way he handled Spy-Gate by destroying all the evidence immediately following the investigation and issuing zero suspensions. Some fans will always attribute the Pats for being cheaters simply because of that scandal and how Goodell handled it. He has to find a way to discipline the Saints in a manner in which they can, at some point, come back from this in the eyes of NFL fans.
I honestly feel sorry for Saints fans at this point. I don’t see any way that this scandal doesn’t taint their Super Bowl run in 2009. Their coaches and players knowingly and willingly broke the rules, not necessarily to gain a competitive advantage, but for their own entertainment to place wagers on the heads of opposing players. As much as I criticize Goodell I think he has to come down hard on Williams and the Saints organization about this, if not just to send a message to the rest of the league if this issue is as wide spread as the “analysts” would like us all to believe. I don’t need Goodell to take the violence out of football, that would be impossible. I’d like him to take the cheating out of it though, as much as he can. I need him to realize the difference between hard hits that are hard because they are delivered by incredibly talented and passionate players like Ryan Clark and James Harrison and hits that are hard because the player needs an extra financial incentive like a few hundred dollars to make it rain at the strip club.
The bottom line is Steeler Nation can be confident that this type of scandal would never tarnish the Black & Gold defense. Not only do our coaches and front office have more respect and integrity for the game than that, but our players do as well. I realize we have some hard hitters on our defense. Not all of Harrison’s hits were legal but he’s paid out the nose for them. However, just like James said, there’s a clear cut difference between trying to hurt a player and trying to injure a player. Putting a bounty on players heads and attaching a financial reward for a “cart off” is dirty and wrong. The Steelers franchise and fans have always been known as blue-collar and hard working because we are raised to do things the right way. We’re not perfect. We don’t claim to be. But if we’re going to get something it’s going to be because we’ve rightfully earned it and didn’t have to bend or break rules, or even cheat to get it.
Follow me on Twitter @Kimmy_KimKimM