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."

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott's return boosts Bulls' bench

Doug McDermott wasn’t exactly hunting for his first shot, but the first time he touched the ball in an NBA game in nearly a month wasn’t the optimal situation for him to let one fly.

It wasn’t in transition where he runs to an opening behind the 3-point line, nor was it a drive-and-kick situation where the help defense collapsed and left him open. It was a regular, simple, pass to the perimeter and McDermott’s defender was in reasonable proximity with 3:23 left in the first quarter.

He launched and the crowd soon roared its approval as his sweet jumper was sorely missed by the Bulls bench brigade—and moments later when he ran the floor for a fearless layup that caused Spurs coach Gregg Popovich to call a timeout, McDermott showed he missed the United Center crowd too, calling for more noise on his way to the bench.

“Anytime you have a guy like Doug, he comes back and makes his first 3, that’s hard to do,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “He stepped up with confidence on that first shot. I’m sure he had a lot of nerves getting back out there.”

Missing 12 games and suffering two concussions, McDermott looked right at home in 25 minutes of run Thursday as the Bulls were able to rely on their reserves in some form in their 95-91 win over the previously perfect road warriors known as the Spurs.

“We defended and kept them off the foul line,” McDermott said. “Coach (Jim) Boylen was with them, so we feel we know them and I think all this time they were missing my defense.”

[SHOP: Get your Bulls gear right here]

The last statement was certainly tongue-in-cheek, but the Bulls’ bench production was certainly missing in action while he was out with the concussion protocol. So much so that his return prompted the Bulls’ coaching staff to call out the reserves in the morning shootaround, demanding more.

“It’s definitely Dwyane (Wade) and Jimmy (Butler) and (Rajon) Rondo (but) the coaching staff kinda called out our bench like, we gotta have you tonight, bench,” McDermott said. “We took that to heart, we were really locked in.”

Seemingly his presence aided the Bulls’ spirits and production, as the Bulls’ bench had the least effective scoring bench in the NBA since Nov. 13, the day after McDermott hit the unforgiving floor against the Wizards for his second concussion this season.

Their net rating ranks ahead of only the Wizards, Mavericks and Nets, who are a combined 17-45 this season. Their effective field goal percentage, which takes into account 3-pointers, is worst in the league in that span (42.3 percent).

When McDermott was healthy for that smaller sample size, the Bulls’ bench ranked fifth in offensive efficiency, seventh in net rating, and fifth in efficient field goal percentage. Whether McDermott – and his absence – was directly related to those numbers, it’s clear the Bulls are better when they have their best reserve – and only true floor spacers on the second unit – on the court.

“We’re all professionals and we want to help the guys who are busting their butts in the first unit to get us the leads,” McDermott said. “Tonight we did a great job of sustaining it. We take it personal when teams come back on us.”

[MORE: Pau Gasol relishes consistency with Spurs he couldn't find with Bulls]

Nikola Mirotic was four of eight from the field, and Cristiano Felicio seems to be back in Fred Hoiberg’s good graces as he’s carved out a rotation spot for himself with nine points and seven rebounds in 18 minutes.

It seems as if Hoiberg will stick with this rotation of players, at least for a little while until Michael Carter-Williams returns from his injuries. If McDermott is the mark of the Bulls’ bench going from bottom feeder to adequate, it should show this month.

“When he’s out there on the floor and we get him coming off screens, it forces the defense to shift as another person they need to be aware of,” Hoiberg said. “It opens up driving lanes for our guys. It was great to have Doug back with us.”

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

Morning Update: Bulls beat Spurs in Pau Gasol's return to Chicago

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