By Frankie O
In between the numerous conversations about the future destination of Peyton Manning and its earth-shattering ramifications, I was able to seek refuge in a more tranquil discussion, that of the existence of bounties in the NFL. Stunning stuff! And judging by the outrage of those manning (Hes everywhere!) the moral high-ground, youd think the existence of the game itself was at stake. What?
Play-for-pay is as old as performance enhancement. Both inspire each other to new heights, or depths, if youre so inclined. In football, the reward for the big hit is at the core of the game itself. Uh-oh, maybe the outraged have a point. But in the world we live in, what do you expect?
We live in a play-for-pay world. In fact, I understand, its possible to make a donation to any politician of your liking: A mayor, a congressman, an alderman or presidential candidate of your choice. And of course theres no expectations of reciprocation when you do so, is there? But I digress.
Positive reinforcement is probably the easiest way to ensure continued behaviors. I wish that my children would always do as I ask, but sometimes I have to up the ante, if for no other reason as to keep their attention.
Lets face it, nothing gets someones attention like cold, hard cash. Those of you who are married know what I mean. Its the ultimate incentive and that permeates every facet of the world we live in. Every single one! Follow the money if you want an answer, I dont care what the question is.
Football is the number one sport in this country and we can argue the cynical and virtuous reasons for this all night long any time you would like to come into the bar. For me, love affair started by watching on TV and playing on the street or the local park with my friends. Then, when I was 9, I was introduced to organized (I use that word loosely, for my experience only) youth football. As I look back, Im lucky to still be around. As plain as day, I can recall being taught to lead with my head like a missile, to take down a ball carrier. Admittedly, this was very long ago, but really?
But, more importantly, I remember getting yelled at incessantly by coaches to make the right play and hit with everything I had. Football was a battle of wills to protect sacred turf and half-assed was not going to cut it. Do not back down, ever! As youngsters, we all wanted to please, and for the yelling to stop. Immediately though, we all fed on it. The last thing you wanted to do was get embarrassed in front of your friends, or, as we were ingrained, to let your teammates down. However primitive, they were lessons not readily forgotten. As you got older, the reprimand became a test of manhood. And as anyone who played knows, its a game for men.
For me, thats what I take from this whole mess. At its core, football is a game of extreme violence, a combination of artistry and controlled mayhem. To survive in that world, one must not have any fear or doubt. Intimidation is the first weapon of defense. Its a sixty minute battle for land where the meek wont survive; theyre going to get trampled in the process.
In any endeavor such as this, there is going to be collateral damage. Players have been leaving pieces of themselves on fields all over this country for as long as the game has been played. When physical specimens like those in the NFL go at it, such is life.
The points of contention here, and I think there are two, are where the debate should be framed.
The first is that deliberately trying to injure a player should never be tolerated. Thats easy enough and everyone would agree. The problem though, is that would require the constant ability to measure intent. In this game, being able to demonstrate physical superiority is paramount. So that means that wherever lines are drawn, there will be those to test the boundaries, intentionally or not. In a game moving at light-speed, that can be a hard thing to do. Especially when it is assumed that hard hits will make a QB jittery and have happy feet, or cause a receiver to have alligator arms when attempting a catch over the middle. These are defensive intentions as old as time. With the new, supposed, focus on player safety, the edge between legal and illegal seems to rest primarily on head-shots and those around the knees. Although from my perspective, sometimes its hard to fault a player when hes doing what he has been taught to do and when an offensive player makes a split-second reactionary move that puts him in a more vulnerable position to those types of hits. There will be carnage.
The other gets more involved, but is simply put: Dont get caught. I know this is not a very moral position to take, but unfortunately life is not as black and white as we would like it. We constantly have to deal with shades of gray. In a group, there are many ways to motivate and I believe the system, at its core was put in place to motivate a group of men to play beyond themselves, not to put every player in an opposing uniform in a hospital. Now, Im measuring intent, but since I didnt play, thats all I can do anyway. Having read Matt Bowens account of having played for Gregg Williams in the Tribune makes me believe this is the case. Again, this is the NFL. It is about winning and nothing else. Do whatever it takes. Theres a prominent coach in the northeast that has been living on the edge forever and hes going to be in the Hall of Fame. The goal is to get a group of men to put everything they have on the line for you, and the team.
I dont look at this as being as blatant, and over-the-top, as when Charles Martin putting the numbers of the Bears players that he was going to take out on a towel he was wearing during a game in the eighties. That was an idiot being an idiot. This is more about a culture that exists in a game of violence. Think this is the only team that does it?
The culture of the game is about machismo. That works for the players and fans alike. Its the fire were all drawn to like moths. For as long as the game has been played, and continues to do so, that will be the case. Some can say theyre outraged, Ill say theyre being selective in their opinions. Pro football is a brutal world and has brutal consequences. Its also a sum of its parts. From a time when a player or coach starts their journey, they know they are going to have to sacrifice to survive. They also must get on with the program or find themselves dazed and wondering what happened. Kill or be killed.
Elephants in the room are there for a reason. We think were so smart that we can avoid them unlike everyone else. Football at the highest level will always have that air of danger. Why? Because we like it, thats why. And there are billions of reasons for it to stay that way, so it will. There will be public outcry and the Saints will have to pay a price because they had the misfortune of getting caught. Thats the only thing that makes them different from other teams in the NFL. And, of course, there is the other reason that this is going to be made into a big deal: They won.