Monday, April 2, 2012

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

In my previous posts I've been clear about how I feel about the New Orleans Saints Bounty investigation.  In my first post on the topic, "NFL's Reaction to Saints Bounty Program is Strategic and Hypocritical", I mainly focused on how Roger Goodell is looking to make the NFL an offensive driven league in order to sell more tickets, not just focus on player safety.  In Part I of this post, I explained how NFL players are taught to be aggressive and hit you as hard as they can on every play therefore a bounty program, though illegal and deserving punishment, does not increase the likelihood of player injuries.  Furthermore, Roger Goodell's focus on a player's intent to injure as a justification for the overly severe penalties is illogical.

Today the NFL Players Association announced that they are lawyering up Saints players as a result of the investigation, although they admit that lawsuits are unlikely.  This is a genius play by the NFLPA, because they are shifting the dialogue and putting Roger Goodell on the defensive.  Although surprising to me, the general public agrees with the penalties for the bounty program.  It's mainly because they've never played football and trying to injure another has an extremely negative connotation.  But you know what else has a negative connotation?  Lawsuits. 

Lawyers getting involved in this conversation remind us about the personal responsibility that these players have and what they sign up for when you decide to play football.  Although trying to injure others may cross the line for some, being sued for playing football and following the rules crosses the line for most.  Again, bounties are illegal and there should be penalties, but the fact that players got injured has nothing to do with bounties.  Playing football can cause injuries, but bounty programs cannot cause injuries.  Therefore, penalties should not be more severe because of an intent to injure.  The intent to injure existed before the bounty program.  It's the way players are taught to play.  The bounty program is nothing more than a recognition program, and unfortunately it's been portrayed as a tool that injures players.

Any discussion about lawsuits being brought against players for participation in a bounty program highlights Roger Goodell's over legislation of the game of football.  In addition, every tackle is legislated throughout the course of a football game.  Injecting player's safety and the intent to injure in this conversation is nothing more than a political ploy by the Commissioner and very unfortunate. 

Now, back to my original point about the genius of the NFLPAs injection of lawsuits in to the bounty program discussion.  We wouldn't even be discussing lawsuits if Roger Goodell would've stayed on message and only disciplined players and coaches for their involvement in the bounty program.  Instead Roger Goodell referenced player's safety and their intent to injure others as a justification for the discipline.  So let me get this straight, the Commissioner of the NFL invites lawsuits that could potential hurt the game as a means to protect to the league from legal liability?  This shifts the blame back to Roger Goodell if lawsuits result from the investigation, because most people expect the league to police itself and understand that the lawsuits were unnecessary. 

This is why Roger Goodell made a huge mistake by injecting safety into this discussion.  He may have been right to police the league, but he took it too far and now will be responsible if it hurts the game.  I think the NFLPAs mention of lawyering up for Saints players was merely a sympathy play.  But it reminds us how a discussion about being injured as a result of a tackle does not belong in the game of football.

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