Thursday, March 22, 2012

Saints Bounty Program: "It's A Man's Game"

The New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was suspended for the entire 2012 - 2013 season for his role in the team's bounty program.  Assistant head coach Joe Vitt received a 6 game suspension, GM Mickey Loomis received an 8 game suspension.  And the harshest penalty was for Greg Williams, former Saints defensive coordinator and current St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator, who was suspended indefinitely.

Since bounty programs are banned in the collective bargaining agreement, penalties were warranted.  The problem is that the phrase "trying to injure or harm other players", which the NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell used as the basis for his decision, has been taken out of context during this investigation.

Whenever an offensive player has the opportunity to block/tackle a defensive player, the objective is to do it with as much "pop" or "impact" as possible.  The same is true for defensive players.  When a defensive player tackles/blocks an offensive player, the purpose is to do it with as much "pop" or "impact" as possible.  The terms "pop" and "impact" refer to how aggressive and how much effort you put behind the force of a tackle/block.  While growing up and learning the game of football, as a defensive player, you're taught to do everything with as much effort as possible.  On defense those who live by that rule play at the next level.  With the amount of skill and athleticism that running backs, wide receivers and some quarterbacks possess anything short of 100% effort may result in a missed tackle.  In fact many defensive players give 100% and miss tackles regularly.

I agree with NFL's recent rule changes regarding helmet to helmet contact and hits on defenseless receivers.  At times I disagree with how it's administered, because some referees enforce the rule based on the amount of impact or whether the player was injured or harmed.  And this brings me back to my original point.  The phrase "trying to injure or harm other players" has been taken out of context.  When players are injured or harmed due to a tackle, it doesn't necessarily mean the hit was illegal.  In addition, you can try to injure or harm other players without doing anything unethical or in violation of league rules.  Defensive players are taught to hit and tackle people as hard as you can.  Offensive players, such as full backs and offensive linemen, are also taught to block as hard as you can.  As a result, players will be injured and/or harmed from perfectly legal hits.

Players getting injured and hurt are commonly the result of clean hard tackles.  Everyone who plays football realizes that.  Players are actually injured most often on non-tackles, such as unintentional and unexpected contact.  If a player intends to injure or harm another player on a clean tackle, and the player is injured, there is no violation.  If a player doesn't intend to injure or harm another on an illegal tackle, and the player is injured, there is a violation.  The intent to harm or injure, has nothing to do with the legality of a tackle.  In addition, referees are currently enforcing the legality of tackles during football games.  Again, bounty programs are not allowed in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement, therefore punishment was warranted for purely instituting the program.  But to justify the extreme punishment because of the intent to "injure or harm other players" is unnecessary and shows a complete ignorance by the Commissioner for the game of football.

In workplaces, safety violations are disciplined based on whether the act was unsafe or not, not based on intent.  Judging intent is too subjective and difficult to consistently administer.  It's a matter of common sense, which the NFL apparently has a lack of right now.  Take a look at a video of the greatest linebacker of all-time, Ray Lewis.  The amount of intensity he plays with is astonishing.  Do you think he injures/harms players when he tackles them?  Absolutely.  Do you think he intends to?  I don't know and I don't care.  Regardless, he tackles people violently, they sometimes get injured, and as a result he's the greatest linebacker of all-time.

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