In the aftermath of the Saints bounty system scandal, there have been two contradictory reactions from the football world:
- Bounties are common.
- The Saints should be punished severely.
The logic: the Saints formalized the commonplace but disorganized practice of players paying each other to knock opponents out of games. As a result, the Saints built an unprecedented, sinister system that incentivized violence more than any other team in the league.
Whereas most teams only paid guys a few hundred dollars, the Saints paid guys a few thousand. As a result, they were crazed, head-hunting lunatics whereas other teams were merely part-time head hunters
But that logic has a flawed underlying assumption: what the Saints were doing was substantially different from what the rest of the league was doing.
That assumption is false.
Football, at is core, is inherently violent. The defence has no other choice than to use brute force. The more devastating, the more effective.
The very players that the league markets as prototypical defenders — Ray Lewis, Brian Urlacher, Ndamukong Suh — are valued for their brutality. The game is designed to reward this brutality. By the nature of the sport, players are incentivized to use violence. And that often leads to injury.
In a shocker, Brett Favre summed it up better than we ever could have, “In all honesty, there’s a bounty of some kind on you on every play.”
And even if you assume that the bounty program made players more violent (which we don’t), it appears as though EVERYONE was doing it.
Mike Freeman of CBS Sports talked to players who described other bounty programs around the league as disorganized, and only reaching a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.
Are we supposed to believe that the Saints were worse than everyone else because the coaches knew about the program? Are we supposed to buy that the Saints were more dangerous because they were getting paid $10,000 per knockout instead of $1,000?
So here are our two conclusions:
- The sport is inherently violent, so encouraging further violence doesn’t change anything.
- Many other teams were effectively doing the exact same thing.
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