By Marc Rasbury
First let me start off by saying that I’m not condoning illegal cheap shots that might end up taking an NFL player out of a game, putting him on the Injured Reserved List or ending that player’s career. But there is a huge difference between trying to hurt someone and purposely going out with the intent to injure another player. Those who do the latter deserve to be thrown out of the League. Those who do the former are just doing their job. And, let’s face it. This is why the NFL is the one of the most popular sports world wide.
As the news spread about the investigation of the New Orleans Saints’ Bounty-Gate, one has to truly question why we watch the NFL. Yes, we love to see QBs hook up with WRs on long bombs or RBs breaking through the line of scrimmage on their way to a huge gain. But let’s be honest; We also like to see those hard hits that stop an offensive player dead in his tracks.
There has always been a reward system in football for making big plays. High school players get stickers that get placed on their helmets for a good hit, tackle or interception. I remember as a high school sophomore making a huge play on special teams and the team captain came up to me on the side line and said, “After that hit, the cheeseburger sub and milkshake are on me tonight.” So when I hear about a few extra dollars for making a nice play, it does not shock me. That concept has been around since the days of leather helmets.
As much as Commissioner Roger Goodell is trying to make the game safer, we still yearn for those big hits. Remember last year when Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison leveled that Cleveland Brown WR? Harrison was fined, as he should have been, for the helmet to helmet hit which sent the Cleveland WR to the trainer’s room. The next day, the still image of that hit was the largest selling photo on NFL.com until the League pulled the photo from the website. Remember when ESPN’s NFL Live had a segment, You Got Jacked UP, where they showed the hardest hits of the previous week? They pulled that segment for some reason. Perhaps the League in their quest to clean up the game strongly suggested that the Network stop glorifying those hits.
Whether it is consciously or subconsciously, deep down most football fans want to see those hits. We just hope that the players that absorb those hits are able to get up and walk back to the huddle with all of their faculties. Former LB great and current ESPN analyst Tom Jackson went on the record indicating that he wanted to hurt an offensive player every time the ball was snapped. That did not make him a dirty player. He just wanted to send a message to the other side of the ball, “Don’t come in my neighborhood!” That gave him and his defense a psychological edge. He did not want to injure anyone. But if someone did get injured, so be it. That is part of the game. Every player that straps on a helmet knows that and accepts it as the reality of the situation. Now when the defensive players are encouraged to injure an opposing player that is a different story.
Former Saints Defensive Coordinator, Greg Williams admitted to not only rewarding his players for making good plays, he also confessed to putting bounties on the heads of opposing QBs like Brett Favre and Kurt Warner. Yes, the path to the 2009 Super Bowl would have been easier with Warner and Favre out of the way, but to intentionally try to take someone out is not right. Greg Williams might be suspended for an entire season for his role in this Bounty Gate. A number of ex and current NFL players have gone on the record and stated they do not understand what is all of the fuss about this Bounty or Reward System. Roger Goodell does not see it that way.
First, there is the perception that the NFL does not want to be seen as a blood sport. 85 percent of the fans do not mind those vicious hits but you have 5-15 percent, the fringe fans that might see them as inhumane. And those fans are the ones that are difference between the League getting one million or one and half million per for a 30 second Super Bowl commercial.
Then there is the prospect of the League expanding the regular season to an 18-game schedule. The more games you play, there are more chances of someone getting hurt. And the more STARS that are hurt and on the sidelines, the weaker the product you present to your viewing audience.
Finally, there are all of those pending law suits out there. There are approximately 40 claims against the League where former players claim that they have suffered debilitating injuries as result of playing in the League. Imagine if a jury hears that the League not only condone bounties but encouraged them. I will assure you that jury would be swayed in the player’s favor.
Personally, I feel that for one player to intentionally go out and injure someone is criminal. If a player goes for another’s knees or delivers a severe blow to another’s head, then that player should be penalized or even thrown out of the game. But if a player is knocked out of the game as a result of clean, hard hit, so be it. That is part of the game. The key word here is intent.
We have to admit that deep down, we love to see those hard clean, hits. They are part of every NFL highlight reel and are what we talk about on Monday morning. We love to see the hits, just not some of the ramifications of those hits. It is like the old saying, “We like sausages. We just don’t want to see how they are produced!”
What do you think?