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."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Gar Forman's plan work?

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Gar Forman's plan work?

On the latest edition of the SportsTalk Live Podcast, David Kaplan is joined by Rick Telander (Chicago Sun-Times) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) to talk Bulls. 

The panel breaks down the trade with Oklahoma City and question whether the team is better or worse now. 

Later, the guys talk about the Blackhawks' trade for Tomas Jurco and also break down the upcoming Daytona 500. Finally, Telander discusses his five-part series chronicling the Orr High School basketball team as they excel on the court and try to survive off it. 

Listen to the SportsTalk Live Podcast below. 

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

Blackhawks acquire Tomas Jurco from Red Wings

General manager Stan Bowman saw the potential in Tomas Jurco several years ago.

For the 24-year-old forward, it wasn’t working out with the Detroit Red Wings. Perhaps a change of scenery, an opportunity on a team that could vie for another Stanley Cup, makes a difference. The Blackhawks are about to find out.

The Blackhawks acquired Jurco for a third-round pick in this year’s draft on Friday afternoon. The 24-year-old Jurco has played in 16 games with the Red Wings this season but has yet to collect a point. In four seasons with the Wings, Jurco had 15 goals and 24 assists in 159 games. Red Wings general manager Ken Holland told Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press that, “things haven’t worked out” for Jurco there and that he wanted to go elsewhere.

Jurco was on a bye as a member of the Red Wings but, now that he’s with the Blackhawks, the bye ends. Bowman was hopeful Jurco would join the Blackhawks at practice on Saturday. Also, to clear a roster spot for Jurco, the Blackhawks reassigned Vinnie Hinostroza to the Rockford IceHogs.

[RELATED: Nick Schmaltz gaining confidence, effectiveness with Blackhawks]

Bowman said he’s been watching Jurco for a few seasons now.

“We’ll be patient with him but we really think there’s a good fit there, looking at his skills and the style of hockey we play,” Bowman said. “He’s been an accomplished player at a lot of different levels. He’s shown flashes in the NHL, not as consistently as he or the Wings would like, but you can see the talent and potential. You have to have some patience with these guys. It doesn’t always come together right away. I’m not expecting him to carry our team but I think he can contribute.”

It was an under-the-radar trade for Bowman but that’s not surprising. In late January, Bowman said he probably wouldn’t do much at the trade deadline; he liked how the Blackhawks’ young players were progressing and figured, if that continued, the team would be in good shape. Since then the Blackhawks have won eight of their last nine and are just three points behind the Western Conference-leading Minnesota Wild. As the Blackhawks kept winning it looked like, if they did anything, it would be a depth move.

So will there be any more moves? At this point it doesn’t seem likely, be it on forward or defense – Bowman didn’t have an update on Niklas Hjalmarsson (upper body) but said he’s happy with the depth in Chicago and Rockford on defense. Bowman said he’ll keep talking but, “but it’s a little bit different than in previous years when I thought we definitely needed something and were lacking in an area.”

“I’ve had a feeling about our team, not just recently but even a month ago. I liked the way this group was starting to come together,” Bowman said. “We’ve seen that enhanced over the last couple of week here. We’ve seen players step up, [Nick] Schmaltz in particular. [Ryan] Hartman’s been good all year. We’ve seen Jonathan [Toews] become a dominant player again. It gives your team a confidence that you have balance, scoring in different lines. We just added a young player to help us now as well as in the future. There’s a lot to be excited about. I’m not expecting more trades. I can’t predict more will happen but I have a good feeling about this group right now.”