New Orleans Saints & Bounty-Gate: Why the NFL Broke This Story Itself

Brian Tuohy@@thefixisintuohyCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2012

Guilty? Maybe. Alone? Most definitely not.
Guilty? Maybe. Alone? Most definitely not.Matthew Sharpe/Getty Images

Let me make this short and sweet. There a reason this bounty "scandal" has broken out in the NFL. And it's not truly about punishing the guilty or stopping the practice because of its inherited "evil."

Bounties, for lack of a better term, have been around forever in the NFL (and they exist in the NHL as well. Ever hear of a player being put "on the board?" Look it up.). Many retired players have come out of the woodwork to talk about this made-up issue. Few have denied hearing such vile things, but others confidently confirm its existence.

Washington Redskins QB Joe Theismann, best known today for having his leg snapped like a twig by New York Giants drug-fueled LB Lawrence Taylor on Monday Night Football, recently was quoted in a Sports Illustrated article saying, "In a sick way, I guess it's flattering. If you had a bounty on you, you were a pretty good player and they wanted to get rid of you."

Let's face it, NFL players are already paid to hit each other. The fact that an added "bounty" of $1,000 or $1,500 (as has been reported in this scandal) shouldn't really make a difference to these players.

It does make me wonder, if one can motivate a $1 million NFL player by offering him $1,000 to injure another player, what could you get the same player to do for $10,000 or $100,000? Fix a game, perhaps? But this is beside the point...kind of.

In the case of the New Orleans Saints, many have pointed a finger at the 2009 NFC Championship Game between the Saints and the Minnesota Vikings. Saints LB Jonathan Vilma allegedly placed a $10,000 bounty on Vikings QB Brett Favre. In the game, Favre was repeatedly hit by the Saints defense—but then again, that is their job. Favre, to his credit, echoed Theismann's sentiments, "I'm not pissed. It's football. I don't think anything less of those guys. I'm not going to make a big deal about it. In all honesty, there's a bounty of some kind on you on every play."

Tough on crime? If it makes the legal team happy, then sure
Tough on crime? If it makes the legal team happy, then sureEzra Shaw/Getty Images

What fans should be concerned about regarding this game wasn't Vilma's alleged bounty. They should be concerned that the referees in that NFC Championship Game failed to call numerous penalties against the Saints' defense for illegal hits on Favre.

Perhaps had the NFL's officials properly enforced the rules that day, the outcome may have gone against the league's pet project in the Saints. Recall how much hype surrounded that team post-Katrina and how the league celebrated mightily when the won the Super Bowl (thanks to New Orleans native Peyton Manning's ill-advised interception).

The Saints have now been cast aside. So much so that just a few days after the scandal broke, the NFL Network pulled a re-airing of that Championship game. Why? I think you can guess.

The biggest question in need of answer in all of this, however, is how did this story break? Investigative reporting? Nope. Whistleblowing player calling out a former coach? Nope. Just how did this become front page news?


NFL Security—for perhaps the first time in decades as they don't appear to do much else (recall the Sam Hurd drug bust for proof of this)—actually investigated its own players/coaches/teams and revealed the "ugly" truth behind the bounty program in place in New Orleans.

This is significant because the NFL WANTED this story to come out. It could have easily received a report from its security division and filed it away, never to see the light of day. This has occurred before.

But the NFL wanted this practice outed. Why? Because of all the legal threats the league faces over concussions and post-concussion syndrome affecting its retired athletes. The NFL has to appear to be concerned about player safety. It has to try to make NFL football "safe."

This is what the bounty scandal is ultimately all about. Like drug testing, this is just another P.R. campaign, meant to appear to be doing one thing while in fact doing the opposite. The NFL has known and allowed bounties to exist for decades. To clamp down on it now is merely to protect the league and the billions it makes from further litigation.

Do not think otherwise.


The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.