An official NFL investigation has reported that the New Orleans Saints maintained a "bounty pool" for the last three seasons, in which the defensive players were paid cash for injuring opposing players. The "pool" was maintained by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, and head coach Sean Peyton knew about it (As did GM Mickey Loomis). Animaniac Blogger Mike got the ball rolling on this already, but this story is important enough to warrant a few posts. Don't be surprised if we return to it later this week.
Mike has admirably covered how horrible this is, and correctly noted that these players and coaches- in my mind, especially the coaches and GMs- need to be punished. My only addition is that that won't be enough.
The fact is, I'm barely surprised by this. I didn't predict it by any means, but there is an easy, logical progression from the general demeanor of the NFL and football media to actions just like this. It's not just that hits are a fundamental part of the game, and that the field of play creates several "blind spots" (such as the bottom of the pile) where the players can outright attack each other with impunity- though they are, and it does. It's not just that injuring a star player is an effective- though abhorrent- tactic. It's that we openly laud a lot of the violence in the NFL.
We count down the biggest hits on Tuesday morning, with Chris Berman and his crew hooting and hollaring all the way (Note: the NFL has asked that we stop doing this. It has also been mocked for doing so). Roger Gooddell's efforts to reign in the most violent excesses of the game are widely mocked by the media and harshly criticized by the players. "Bounties" have actually been openly talked about in fan circles for YEARS, and while nobody holds Kissing Suzy Kolber up as an authority, the language is still out there. And I'm as bad as anyone. I've gone into multiple games openly rooting for Brett Favre, Aaron RAHDJAHS! and Tim Tebow to break their collarbones (must be something about quarterbacks with ostentatious touchdown celebrations, I guess).
My point is, current NFL culture incentivizes a lot of violent behavior, and does not really explain where the line is. And as that's the case, of course some people are going to cross the line. I'm not saying we shouldn't punish the Saints players and coaches; the fact is, EVERY team was operating in the same culture, and the Saints are the only ones who did something so ridiculous (...I hope?). So, obviously, players, coaches, and teams still have a choice here. But when the entire defensive organization of a team is implicated, along with the head coach and GM, this clearly goes beyond the "few bad apples" defense. The NFL must punish the Saints for this, but if it doesn't also change the culture that allowed this, it won't be enough.
One more point on this. The Saints were ranked 24th in defense for 2011. 25th in '09, when the Saints won the Super Bowl. 2010 was obviously different, with the team coming in 4th, but still, the trend is clear: the "Bounty Pool" was not producing appreciably better defense. And if all the violence isn't producing better football, what's the point, exactly?