Opinion: Hunting the bounty hunters

Jared Schwartz, Author

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Photo Credit: WordItOut

The successful appeal of suspensions to several National Football League players who were accused of playing major roles in a bounty program sets a dangerous precedent for the future of the NFL.

In March, the NFL allegedly found evidence that the New Orleans Saints were operating a bounty system in which players were being given extra money to injure opposing players.  In response, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspended several players for various numbers of games each while also suspending Saints head coach Sean Payton for the entire season.  Former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was suspended indefinitely.

Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma will be eligible to play Sunday, according to Greg Aiello, a member of the three man committee that overturned the suspensions. So will Saints defensive end Will Smith, Browns linebacker Scott Fujita and free agent defensive lineman Anthony Hargrove.

The first problem with the situation is the idea of it.  The fact that players are attempting to injure other players is horrible and could ruin the game of football.  All players would do a lot to win, and injuries have always been a part of football, but this is a new level that is going too far.

The problem is not only at the professional level.  High school and even younger players view NFL superstars as role models, and could mimic them by attepting dirty hits. This issue must be stopped before it gets integrated into the style of high school teams like those at Palo Alto High School.

So Goodell was right to punish them as he did.  These players were not only accused of being involved in the bounty system, but of playing leadership roles in it.   However, Goodell did not provide evidence to support his claim.  He handled the situation as if he had absolute power, without considering the possible consequences.

Now, the players that Goodell considers the most involved in the attempted injury of other players are free to play with no consequence whatsoever.

So, why didn’t Goodell prove his claim? If he had the evidence, why not take the time to use it?  He could have avoided this entire situation.  If he was so sure of himself, it would have been simple to prove it and hand out suspensions in a democratic manner.

The reason it’s tough for Goodell to do it systematically, though, is that there isn’t a clear system.  It is unclear who is next in the heirarchy to Goodell, who is clearly at the top.  Ideally, the NFL would have a committee of unbiased panel to decide on matters such as suspensions, in order to decide whether there was sufficient evidence that these players were heavily involved in a bounty program.  Conducting a vote with the owners of the teams, who may be next in line power-wise to Goodell, would be disastrous because of their clear bias toward their own team.

Despite these complications, Goodell should have at least proven the validity of his accusations before handing down punishments.  Bounty systems need to be stopped for good before they become commonplace.

Instead, he withheld certain pieces of evidence and punished players as he wished.  The problem is not the accused players being on the loose – they will likely be closely watched.  The real issue is the precedent that this sets should a team set up a similar bounty program in the future.

Many people believe that the Saints were and are not the only team with a bounty program.  In the mind of a player who has a coach pressuring him to participate in one, there is no longer a reason not to.  If they will not even be punished, why not try to make a little extra money?  Whereas a few days ago players would be hesitant to be a part of it due to the harsh punishments dished out by Goodell, now they have nothing to fear.  Even if Goodell wants to punish them, he does not have the power to.

Goodell meant well when he tried to swiftly punish players he believed were harming the integrity of the NFL.  However, his plan backfired, and the repercussions of Goodell’s carelessness will be felt in the years to come.