Time to take bounties seriously

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Time to take bounties seriously

Bounties, however you want to define them, have been part of football since leather helmets and checkerboard gridirons.

However, political correctness aside, in the wake of stunning revelations stemming from the NFL's investigation into the New Orleans Saints' alleged bounty system, it is time to take the issue seriously.

"From youth football to high school to college, look at the back of a kid's helmet," said East Aurora coach Kurt Becker, a former two-time All-America offensive lineman at Michigan who played for eight years with the Chicago Bears.

"What do you see? Stickers. Rewards for hits, tackles and big hits. They have been around forever. The only difference is they put money on it in the pros."

And because of NFL rules, they aren't allowed to put stickers on the backs of their helmets.

In high school, coaches reward players with silver or gold helmets and establish "Hitters" or "Maulers" clubs for exhibiting brute force and over-the-top aggressiveness on the field...as in a ball-carrier who runs over a linebacker or a defensive lineman who sacks a quarterback, knocks a running back off his feet or separates him from the ball.

"Nobody is asking a player to deliberately injure another player," one coach said. "Football is a contact sport. At times, it gets very violent and very personal. It's all about hitting. It's all about blocking and tackling. Ask a kid why he enjoys playing football and he'll say he likes to hit people. But he isn't out to break somebody's leg."

Apparently the New Orleans Saints have been out to do just that, according to tapes of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. NFL officials are looking into reports that the Saints aren't the only team that uses bounties as a motivational tool. An Illinois High School Association official said his organization was on the alert for reports of such behavior among its members.

As athletes have gotten bigger and stronger and faster over the years, the game has gotten more physical and more violent by its very nature. Becker said bounties weren't an issue when he played but it was obvious that some players approached the game with a more aggressive attitude than others.

"Every play for Dick Butkus was a bounty. That's the way he played the game and everybody understood that. He was respected and feared for how hard he tackled opponents. They made an entire NFL film on the subject," Becker said. "But when you create paid bounties (as the Saints allegedly did), then it takes you out of the framework of the game."

Are helmets safe? Do they protect athletes from concussions?

"Helmets protect you superficially. But no helmet, no matter how well it is constructed, will prevent concussions. There isn't a helmet that will protect you from getting a concussion," Becker said.

He recalled how former Bears teammate Doug Plank and former All-Pro cornerback Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders, whose violent hit left former Marshall star Darryl Stingley paralyzed for the rest of his life, had reputations for hitting with their heads. Some coaches were known for teaching and encouraging spearing.

"That's the way the game was played then. We didn't know better," Becker said. "Today, we must coach the game differently. We must be aware of keeping the head out of the game."

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Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

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