While TGaGaaCB is a baseball podcast, Thomas and I have made no secret of our love for football. I’m a big 49ers fan, and Thomas is a fan of the
Colts 49ers Titans whatever team Peyton Manning is on. The football world has been shocked by Bounty-gate, the discovery that former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran a “bounty” program, giving players financial rewards for injuring opposing players.
Now, football is an intensely physical sport, and people do get injured regularly just playing the game, even if there is no foul play or specific malice involved. Players are encouraged to hit hard and do everything it takes to help their team win, and to pretend otherwise is naive.
Still, this whole thing just feels wrong, and I’ve been having a hard time figuring out exactly why. Maybe it has something to do with this:
Buster Posey’s injury devastated Giants fans, and the feedback throughout the baseball world was immediate and intense. Immediately after the Scott Cousins Incident, collisions at the plate became the talk of the nation. Some came down on the side of “classic” baseball, the same group that snubs helmets for batboys, interleague play, and the first and second wild card. Others, including Bruce Bochy, Brian Sabean, and my father, felt that Cousins had room to slide around Posey and that the collision did not need to happen.
Still, no matter the pundit or their particular punditry, nobody actually accused Cousins of trying to hurt Posey. Even Giants fans mourning Buster Posey’s season sympathized with Cousins as a fringe major leaguer who was desperately trying to hold onto a roster spot; if there’s a line of moral turpitude in professional sports, Cousins did not cross it.
So where is that line? Well, it sure felt like the New York Giants crossed it in the Kyle Williams game, after articles like this one came out revealing that they were apparently intentionally trying to exploit Williams’ concussion history by targeting his head and trying to scramble his brains. Concussions are awful, awful things, and can permanently ruin somebody’s life. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has done his best to remove concussions from football, but the players and coaches seem so eager to keep traumatic brain injury as an integral part of the sport. I can’t believe I actually just wrote that sentence.
But what really does it for me is to imagine that day in May, when we found out that Buster Posey was going to miss the rest of the year. Then imagine that Scott Cousins was being rewarded for what he had done, that Marlins players were encouraged and incentivized to play dirty and go for the contact. There would be a riot. If Nick Swisher got a kickback for breaking Tsuyoshi Nishioka’s leg, or if Pete Rose was cut a check for ending Ray Fosse’s career, it would ruin baseball. It would ruin professional sports. I don’t know why there is such a clear division in my mind between an accidental injury and an intentional one, but it’s a line that cannot be crossed.
So yes, punish the hell out of the people who set up these programs, and continue handing down the discipline until people in the game start to care. And kudos to the people who finally outed that this program exists, and more kudos to players like Vikings punter Chris Kluwe for defending those people and not letting the Boys’ Club mentality destroy this sport. The penalties for this kind of behavior need to be harsh and effective. Otherwise, it’s still worth the money.
The bounty system brings out the worst in players, trying to take each other out instead of just trying to win. Good, hard play should be recognized and rewarded, but not like this. It’s important to keep football moving in the right direction, protecting players and helping them live long, full lives during and after their careers.