Call It Saints’ ‘Rewards Program’

One consequence of the 24hour news cycle is the propulsion of stories up a level from what they merit. A small story becomes a big story and a big story becomes huge. The news monster must be fed, and this is just as true for sports as it is for hard news. Which is why you’re hearing the word “bounty” ad nauseam.

When it came to be known that the New Orleans Saints had a program to pay for big plays, including “knockouts” a player being injured enough to be unable to continue and “cart-offs” where a cart must come and drive a player off for medical attention.

Gee, no special awards for spine boards that immobilize a player in case of possible paralysis?

Of course, lesser feats of violence like forced fumbles, big hits on return men, even interceptions and pass breakups could win you some greenbacks.

While the bounties were player-funded, apparently defensive coordinator Gregg Williams administered the program.

According the Collective Bargaining Agreement, bonuses for performance outside of player contracts are illegal. And extra pay for serious injuries flies in the face of decency, sportsmanship and the NFL’s current concerns with player safety.

Football is a physical and violent game, and one needs to distinguish between hurt, which is the infliction of pain that modifies behavior (as in “I’m not going over the middle again because I just got body slammed by that linebacker”), and the intentional causation of injury. Players have always been recognized for big plays and big hits. At Ohio State and Florida State, a player earns a helmet decal for such plays.

It is the injury stuff that has made this a big deal. Has any NFL player ever actually altered his play to try to injure an opponent in hope of picking up a quick $1,000 or so? I think that’s doubtful. But the word bounty set off alarm bells. What if it had been called a rewards program? Sort of calls to mind your frequent-flier account or credit card bonuses instead of Dog Chapman coming after you in the dead of night.

So this medium story has been catapulted into front-page news and will stay there until the commissioner hands out penalties. Roger Goodell is almost forced to hand out serious sanctions in hopes of setting an example. Expect the Saints to be fined and lose a draft pick or two.

Williams will likely receive a suspension, possibly a whole season. General manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton also are likely to receive some measure of punishment. And we’ll be hearing of other teams that have engaged in similar shenanigans

The talking heads will continue to be outraged, at least until the next scandal or scheme rolls around and the media monster gets a menu change.