On Saturday, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune wrote an article about the discussion he had recently with Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs. Haugh and Briggs disagreed strongly about the appropriateness of Saints’ linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s year-long suspension for his role in the Bountygate scandal. Haugh challenged Briggs’ statement that Vilma’s suspension was, as he put it, “a bunch of BS,” explaining that the intent behind the suspension was to increase player awareness and safety.
“Player safety is best taken care of by providing health insurance for players’ lives… come on. It’s like asking a boxer: ‘Are your injuries related to taking blows to the head?’ We throw our bodies around. It’s physical. It’s football. You can’t stop the violence from happening,’” Briggs said.
But Haugh’s point wasn’t so much that the NFL can eliminate the seriously violent hits that occur in football, but more so that the NFL has an obligation to make the attempt at reducing them.
Perhaps the most salient point Briggs was trying to make in countering Haugh’s arguments was that what the Saints actually did on the field wasn’t all that severe. ”…bounty or not, what did the Saints do on the field that’s illegal? All I’ve seen on TV is clean, physical football. You can get those same highlights from any NFL team,” Briggs declared.
It is true that a whole bunch of NFL teams were flagged more for personal fouls than were the Saints over the time frame in which the bounty system was in place. And on an average day, the Saints didn’t appear more dirty than, for instance, the Steelers or the Ravens. But the overall point is that the NFL must root out and put a stop to any sort of off-the-books pay-for-performance schemes – even the seemingly innocent ones such as giving a player a hundred bucks for a pass breakup. All non-contract payments are expressly forbidden by the league and allowing anyone to have even the most elementary ”bounties” can lead to slippery slope.
And as Haugh points out later in the article, what happens in the NFL sets the tone for college, high school, and Pop Warner clubs. When the NFL focuses on reducing hits to the head, for example, it has a ripple effect that is felt throughout the entire universe of football players.