In defense of bounty hunting

This time of year, I focus a lot more on baseball and tend to ignore everything relating to football. But there is one story line that I found interesting. Over the past month, the story regarding the New Orleans Saints and their “bounty hunting” has been unfolding. In case you missed it, coaches and players participated in a system that paid players with incentives for hard hitting or injuring certain opposing players. It was reported that it had been going on since 2007, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl. A series of fines and drastic suspensions have been recently given to the coaches: Most noticeably, head coach Sean Payton was suspended one year without pay for knowing about the system and not stopping it. In addition, the franchise was fined $500,000 and had to forfeit its second round draft picks for 2012 and 2013. It was reported that somewhere between 22 and 27 players were involved, although no penalties have been given to them.

I feel that violence is essential to the game of football. The element of danger and risk are some of the biggest attractions to the vast consumption of this game. Yet these penalties seem to reflect an entirely negative view on forceful tackles. I remember being told by my football coach in middle school, “If you hit them, make sure they don’t want to get hit again.”

I always thought it meant that I should hit them hard enough so they would quit running in my direction.

That seems to be essentially the same thing as this system of bounties, with the obvious exception of finance. These players simply should not be getting paid tens of thousands of dollars just for injuring an already fragile quarterback; they should be injuring him to improve their chance at winning the game.

So what does this mean for the future of football? It means that football is becoming increasingly less entertaining. If they need to punish an entire franchise for years to come simply because they were organized in developing a system to win by playing physically, then they don’t understand how important these tackles are. This example they are making could send a message to every NFL team, every college team and even every high school team that hard hits are not allowed and you will be punished if you injure someone.

Statistically, there is a surprising lack of injuries in pro football. For every play, some man must forcibly take down another man against his will. This will happen around a hundred times a game, roughly, and a few more hundred in the week of practice leading up to the game. Much of this has to do with the number of pads they have to wear and the new technology in their helmets, but it also has to do with attempting to not inflict pain on each other. That is boring.

Ndamukong Suh, a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions, is widely considered the league’s dirtiest player. But he claims he is just playing the game how he feels it should be played: with no restrictions. He too, has faced his share of penalties and fines, but he always shows up ready to hit someone as hard as he possibly can. He is not one bit afraid to injure someone.

This is what I find entertaining in football: not all the stupid theories focus on how a wide receiver should run a route, but instead how hard that receiver can send a player to the ground. This might be an entirely male point of view, but aggression is built into us by nature and football just seems to be the easiest and safest way to release it.

Although I understand the suspensions and penalties for the financial incentives it gave the players, I am strongly opposed to the message it sends for playing physically. The Saints didn’t win the Super Bowl because they cheated; they won because they saw weaknesses in the opponents and inflicted pain on the players that could hurt them the most. It’s called good strategy; it’s not criminal. I believe that “bounty hunting” for a large sum of cash is a crime, but trying to not hurt your opponent is a bigger crime in my book. Let them play rough; it’s more entertaining!

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