Coach Sean Payton deserves his punishmentBy Jake Gray | 04/03/2012 2:13am
Last week, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton was given a yearlong suspension from the NFL. This unprecedented punishment comes weeks after a shocking bounty program was exposed from within the Saints’ franchise.
For years, Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams organized a pay-for-play bounty system. The coach would collect money, monitor and record big hits and then distribute the winnings to players who injured opposing players after the game. Williams has since been suspended from the game of football indefinitely.
Bonuses were given if certain players were knocked out of the game. Jonathan Vilma, Saints middle linebacker, allegedly put a $10,000 bounty on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Brett Favre in the 2009 NFC Championship game. During the game, Favre was beaten senselessly by opposing players. While all were legal hits, it was clear the Saints were on a mission to harm Favre.
Other players, such as Cam Newton and Michael Vick were targeted as potential bounty targets as late as the 2011 season. The Saints knew if they knocked out the opposing team’s best players, it would give them a competitive advantage. There was no sportsmanship. There was no character.
Since the system was revealed, current and former players have defended the Saints, considering it “part of the game.” When asked about the bounty system, Michael Vick said he considered it an honor to have a bounty put on him. Mike Golic, former NFL defensive tackle and ESPN radio host claimed bounty systems were organized in multiple NFL franchises while he was a player.
While pundits and fans view it as a barbaric and indefensible violation to the integrity of the game, most players have refused to acknowledge the wrongness of what the Saints allegedly did.
The mindset is “if everyone is doing it, it must be okay.” This same excuse has been used countless times throughout history, as different cases of corruption and injustice have been exposed.
Perhaps the most confusing and frustrating part of the situation is that the Saints were warned. In fact, the Saints were warned multiple times prior to two weeks ago. Sean Payton heard the warnings from Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, and did nothing to stop it. His own arrogance led to his downfall.
Last year, the league entered a lockout between the Players Association and the NFL. While most acknowledged the new collective bargaining agreement was the center of the debate between the two sides, the NFL Players Union took a hard stance on players’ safety. I watched Drew Brees, the New Orleans Saints’ quarterback, on ESPN’s “Sportscenter” claiming their No. 1 issue was the safety of the players.
I find it hard to believe Brees had zero knowledge of his own team’s bounty system. How can someone who is a representative of an entire group of players stare at a camera and say he is concerned with players’ safety when his own team is paying players to put others in the hospital? How hypocritical does the “son of New Orleans” look now?
Former Bears quarterback, Jim McMahon, recently told ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” that he suffers from severe memory problems. Almost 30 years removed from the game and McMahon is permanently damaged from receiving numerous hits to the head. He forgets what he’s going to say mid-sentence. He enters rooms for no reason. With this kind of knowledge, how can you blame Roger Goodell for issuing such a harsh punishment on the Saints?
Concussions are an issue in football. If former players continue to report brain damage, less people will play the game. Obviously, the NFL has a long way to go in fixing this issue.
The players claim to be concerned about their own safety. They lobby for more concussion awareness during a lockout, and former players are entering lawsuits against the NFL because of head injuries sustained in their career. How many players have suffered from concussions as a result of a bounty? How many players have lain in a hospital bed while the other was pocketing cash in the back of a locker room?
The players’ arguments lose merit because of the bounty systems. While the Saints were caught, it is clear they were not the only team guilty. If the players and the NFL truly want to make the game safer, they must accept Sean Payton’s punishment and put an end to bounties in the National Football League.
Jake Gray is a senior majoring in economics and journalism. His column runs on Tuesdays.