The New Orleans Saints bounty scandal also known as Bountygate has been sliced and diced from every angle. Who knew about it? How high up in the organization did it go? Who is really to blame? Did the right people get penalized? And were those penalties harsh enough? The simple answer to that last question is no.
Most of the coaches, players and management appeared contrite after the scandal was brought to light in early 2012. Remorseful sounding yes but not quite enough to accept the punishments without appeal. Everyone from the organization itself to the G.M. and coaches down to the players appealed their suspensions. All were upheld. Even these penalties – some of the most severe in NFL history – were not tough enough. Nothing short of a lifetime ban would be though. The money they’ll lose, the service time they’ll relinquish and the black marks imprinted on their resumes aren’t punishment enough for the seed that’s been planted in the minds of amateur athletes across the country. Middle school, high school and collegiate players already emulate professional athletes from the way they tackle to how the celebrate a sack or touchdown. Many of them learned of Bountygate and thought to themselves “that sounds like fun”.
Adults often use the phrase “think of the children” to get restrictions imposed which are mostly self-serving. This isn’t that kind of statement. This is about the real impact of NFL coaches and players who condoned a bounty system which paid players for injuring one another. And, just like the use of steroids, it has quickly trickled down into the amateur ranks. While talking to a high school JV football player about his past season and upcoming training camp he taught me the true effect of the Saints Bountygate scandal. Unprompted, he told me that he and some of his teammates have talked about implementing a slush fund to be paid out when one of them injures a player on the opposing team. The payouts will be higher if the player has to leave the field for an extended period time and the value paid was dependent on the significance of the position. Sound familiar? 14 and 15-year-old kids don’t have a lot of spare cash so the monies paid would not be extravagant but the principle of what he said hit me hard. When I questioned the ethics of it the 14-year-old shrugged it off and told me it’s just for fun. Most of them wouldn’t really try to hurt other players, he said trying to justify it. When I reminded him of the penalties handed out to Saints players and coaches he confidently told me they were careful to not speak of it around the adults. And when I called him a dirty player for wanting to emulate a practice which drew the ire of sports fans and general observes alike, he laughed it off. We just want a way to make it more interesting. This is why lifetime bans of Saints coaches, players and management would be well deserved.
The NFL was a thriving business before the Bountygate story broke in March 2012. The dark cloud which now hangs over the league will eventually dissipate but the NFL and Saints players and coaches have work to do in the amateur arena. Instead of appealing every penalty that the NFL levied against them, the Saints could have accepted them and also done more outreach to youth football. An apology followed by an appeal is a way of saying that those involved feel bad but not really that bad. Everyone knows gambling in baseball is wrong. Why? Because Pete Rose was banned from the league never to be reinstated. And because of the bans imposed on the players involved in the Black Sox Scandal. The NFL had its chance to make a similar statement and blew it. The ringleader, defensive coordinator Greg Williams, was suspended indefinitely and will be up for reconsideration at the end of the upcoming season. Commissioner Roger Goodell has one last chance at redemption. Young athletes may yet understand the immorality of a bounty system in sports if he makes the right decision.