For more than 25 years I have had access to a part of the NFL that most fans rarely see or more importantly almost never hear. Most reporters get to stand in the tunnel as the players leave the field having conversations with a player from the other team. In many cases, its the guy they just did battle with for three hours. Sometimes you know the players were former teammates from the pros or college. Other times the connection was built on years of competitive respect. Sometimes it was just based on playing against each other for 60 minutes. But almost always, to a man, the conversation ends with the players parting by saying "stay healthy". That is the acknowledgment that while the players want and need to win, job one in the NFL is to survive the game. The game is so physical and violent that I get and respect that mindset. That is why I am so bothered by the notion of bounties and think the NFL must act quickly and swiftly to end the practice.
This is not about the physical nature of the game and the "strategy:" that to win the game a defense might need to hit and punish the opponents quarterback or star receiver. To me that is football at its core and why there are only a select few men in the world that have the ability and the guts to walk out on that field and play. But the notion that a price is out on an opponents head to give players incentive to hurt him and possibly end a season or career in the process is miles over the line that the league can not cross. For me it's not just about the little bit of extra money on the table. It is about creating a mindset for players that their goal on the field is to hurt an opponent. If that happens in the course of a game then so be it. The truth is, even if it happens on what the league calls and illegal hit, it's still part of the game if the players motivation was to play the game right.
Fans need not embarrass themselves by comparing bounties to fights in hockey. The NHL has its own self policing code, especially among fighters, that makes that analogy laughable. Let an enforcer go after Steven Stamkos or Alex Ovechkin and before he even gets off the ice he is challenged to a fight by 3 of the other team's tough guys. In baseball we know there is payback in terms of hitting players with pitches. But even there there is a code that you don't throw at a players head and attempt to injure to make your point.
What should the NFL do about Gregg Williams and the Saints? It's time for major punishments, including suspensions and fines. Go ahead make the argument that they are not the only one's doing it and you would be right. But the next time someone gets caught insider trading on Wall Street tell me they should not be punished because other people are doing the same thing? Sorry fellas, you were the ones who got caught. Maybe this will serve as a deterrent and start to change the mindset. If it is wrong, it is wrong.
I like the physical element of NFL football and I think it is what has been keeping my respect for the players who take the field. But it is beneath the players and the sport to turn it into a version of "Rollerball" by plotting to take people out of a game. I believe that when those players meet after a game and tell the other guys to "stay safe" they truly mean it. But what do they say to the guy in the other jersey that had a target put on his back for the last few hours? "Hey, we will get you next time? "Sorry you are not limping?" "Too bad you aren't in the trainers room?". The game has enough brutal injuries without trying to plan them ahead of time.