Commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL came down on the New Orleans Saints with some tough penalties for their long-running bounty program. For the institutionalized, intentional injuring of opposing players, the team was fined $500,000, lost some draft picks, head coach Sean Payton was suspended for a year, and the architect of the program, former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, was suspended indefinitely.
This constitutes a slap on the wrist.
Understand what this was: This was the coaching staff of a professional football team offering cash rewards to speedy, 300 pound professional athletes, for causing injuries to the players on opposing teams. The bounty system was in effect for three full years, from 2009 through 2011. It involved as few as 22 Saints’ players, and possibly as many as 27. It was reported that there was maintained a “bounty pool” of $50,000, and players received $1,000 for causing an opposing player to be carted off the field, and $1,500 for causing an opposing player to be knocked out of a game.
In recent years, the NFL and other sports associations have re-examined issues of the physical well-being of players. The thrust of strict rules against steroid use in football, baseball, and other sports, has been primarily due to the horrendous physical effects of such drugs. The NFL should have gotten this message years earlier, when effects of steroid use began making headlines, such as when steroid-related cancer took the life of 43-year-old Lyly Alzado almost 20 years ago. The NFL engineers headlines with their half-hearted bandaid solutions to the epidemic of concussions and other serious injuries. The NFL is sitting on a powder keg of brain injuries that will begin affecting the lives of vast numbers of retired players over the next couple of decades.
With this background, the NFL should have shown coaches, players, and the public, that the intentional injuring of players would not, under any circumstances, be tolerated. Both Greg Williams and Sean Payton should have been banned from the league for life. Players who received bounties should be named, fined, and suspended. Players who did in fact cause serious injuries should also be banned for life, and players who caused less severe injuries should receive year-long suspensions.
Anything less, as the league has in fact done, demonstrates a mere pretense of protecting players from injury.