The New Orleans Saints have been caught big time.
Gregg Williams has been exposed, Sean Payton is on the line and the on-pitch of the team is in jeopardy.
It emerged over the weekend that former Saints defensive coordinator Williams operated a bounty pool — a system that offered players a cash bonus for injuring an opponent.
A payment system for hitting an opponent hard in a game known for big hits? Shocking.
Irony aside, the Saints and Williams are in hot water. The league has recently taken a much tougher stance on big hits after research revealed the sheer number of concussions and spinal/brain damage suffered by retired players.
Since these discoveries, the NFL has stopped releasing "biggest hits of the year" DVDs and has outlawed helmet-to-helmet collisions.
The problem? Many in the media and across the football world are coming down hard on the Saints.
Yeah, they deserve it. Williams should take a large fine and possible ban.
But it's not responsible for injuries. No player was taken out of the game and no outcomes were changed by the injury of a player.
In football, a player is running the risk of being injured regardless of any bounty scheme in effect. A tackler's job is to take their opposite number to the ground. A great tackle involves tackling high, tackling hard and driving the opponent into the ground like he isn't there.
That's how the game has been played through the ages. That's how young players grow up being taught and it's how they are built.
And if a player is injured by a big hit — provided it is legal — what's the big deal? If the hit is clean and the "victim" is injured on the play, that is no fault of the tackler.
The outrage, justifiably, is that the payment comes for taking players out of the game — injuring an opponent intentionally.
If the Saints simply rewarded the players responsible for big hits with something other than cash (like the old sticker for good work in school) then this doesn't get half the press it does.
The media backlash on New Orleans has been incredible. Calls for million-dollar fines and multiple future draft picks stripped for years to come are being heard. These are fair enough, but those calling for bans for coaches and players are exaggerating.
The Saints' top brass also deserve punishment for failing to halt the scheme when they were first alerted to its' existence. Instead of putting an end to the scheme forcefully, ownership simply asked for it to be discontinued.
Will the media backlash be the same if other teams now get caught running their own bounty schemes? Probably not, the media is fickle. But don't be surprised if there are other teams found out, especially given that Williams has been on the staff of other teams during his career.
The Saints' silence on the entire fiasco has been deafening, as if they are scared of opening their mouths only for something bigger to slip out.
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