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Mark Viviano: Dirty Football Secrets

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Welcome to the dark, harsh reality of pro football. The New Orleans Saints have been hung in the city square for all to see: a reminder that Sheriff Goodell means business, and won’t put up with renegades and vigilantes in his league. Many in the public are aghast and outraged that an NFL investigation revealed that the Saints instituted a “bounty” system- offering cash rewards to players who knocked out or injured opposing players. “Hang ‘em high!,” the crowd yells. Columnists “tsk, tsk” and wag their fingers at the despicable Saints. Silly public, sanctimonious media. The only thing the Saints did “wrong” in the cold, brutal world of NFL violence is they 1) allowed information about their “bounty” system to get outside of their locker room, and 2) were belligerent and untruthful when approached by league investigators. The Saints aren’t so much paying for knocking out opposing players, they’re being punished for being blatant about it.

By many accounts, the NFL was aware of the Saints bounty system (as the league is aware of almost ALL teams’ bounty systems) and told New Orleans to cease, or at least keep it under wraps. The Saints ignored the warning and kept up business as usual. Whether it’s a league or a police force, we all know that obstinacy is a sure way to anger the rule enforcers. So, that’s what the Saints are paying for: belligerence, obstinacy and, maybe ultimately, ignorance.

Bounties (pay for pain) have been and will continue to be part of the hard scrabble pro football culture. The issue is similar to the sudden outcry over concussions: it’s part of football. If you don’t want players targeting other players, and if you don’t want concussions then stop playing football. The crackdowns and punishments trumpeted by the NFL, and the renewed concern and awareness over head trauma are just as much legal posturing by the league as they are true concerns for the health and well-being of the players and the league. I realize I come across as cynical in my opinion but there’s reason to be cynical about the attempts to “soften” what is inherently a hard, brutal sport and industry. There are literally hundreds of lawsuits on file against the NFL by past and present players alleging the league is responsible for knowingly perpetuating a dangerous work environment. Sorry guys, my opinion is that your decision to take the money to brutalize your body for brief football glory is a two-way transaction and you went willingly. Understood, though, there’s always a lawyer willing to pursue compensation for a client (and himself) wherever possible. The result then is that the NFL has to make an example of the Saints and legislate new procedures regarding head injuries. It’s what we call CYA (cover your a–). The league would be ignorant if it didn’t. But, see it for what it really is. Don’t be shocked and sanctimonious about what goes on in the brutal world of pro football. It’s blood-sport entertainment and always has been. The only difference now is that it comes with a mandatory legal warning sticker.

Enjoy the games!

Posted by: Mark Viviano

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