Mind Candy

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Why the NFL needed a whistleblower

Posted by mandyf on April 6, 2012

“Players and coaches alike all know this: it’s a privilege and not a right to be a part of the National Football League. The intent to maim or take a player out or maybe end his career is not professional football. It shouldn’t be coached that way and shouldn’t be taught that way and shouldn’t be played that way.” – Herm Edwards

I’ve seen a number of posts and articles regarding the suspension of the New Orleans Saints coach over what has been dubbed “Bounty Gate” as well as a number of criticisms of the players that have spoken up about the unofficial policy of players delivering hits that knock them out of the game for a little extra cash in their hand. Frankly, I’ve been appalled by things I have read coming out of several corners regarding this. The league has levied a $500k fine against the Saints and taken their next 2 second round draft picks. Three coaches along with the team GM have been suspended over the scandal. It is the harshest penalty of this nature ever handed down by the NFL because they need to protect their players as best as possible. Knowing that, I have seen a number of statements that think the league got it wrong.

Warren Sapp allefes that Jeremy Shockey is the whistle blower. While some cheered his courage, if in fact it was him, others lambasted  Shockey.  I’ve seen posts on Facebook walls in which one woman, J. White, promised to shred Shockey’s jersey and questioned his heart to play along with colorful language regarding aspects of his life that had nothing to do with the game. Pro Football Zone, a heavily opinionated lacking facts rumor mill, used the word “snitch” to describe Shockey. Others used terms like “rat” or “stoolie’. The bottom line , however, is that Shockey’s blowing the whistle, if it was him was the right thing to do.

Late hits, dirty hits and hits that were meant to do nothing but injure players, particularly QBs, are a major problem in the game. We can look at the problem from multiple angles.

Quarterbacks are marquee players in the NFL. Any team losing a starting QB is usually going to have trouble winning. QBs are also highly susceptible to a number of blows being extremely damaging because the natural throwing motion leaves them vulnerable. The rules have constantly changed to help protect QBs better, too much for some fans, but it is a matter of protecting highly marketable assets. The money factor alone, forget about the competitive balance for now, is a major reason QBs are so cherished.

While bounties would be paid for debilitating “cart off” hits on any player, it is the QB that is the main target. Take off the head, the body falls. The amount of money for the hits isn’t really the main issue here. it is that coaches placed a bounty, even if just in words, encouraging their player to inflict injuries on opposing players. It is as much, if not more so, about the adulation. The praise in the locker room. The praise when watching game films. It is about doing what your coach tasked you to do. In this case, it was delivering knock-out hits.

I’ll be the first to say hitting hard and even getting hurt are all a part of the game. Every player knows an injury can be just one play away. There is a major difference, however, by being injured on a clean hit and a hit that was engineered to manufacture an injury. NFL football is damaging enough without players being encouraged, hell, PAID, to deliver hits designed to put players out of games. Let’s look at some numbers to clarify this a little.

** In 2010, each team had an average of 3.7 injured players per week. 13% of those went to the injured reserve list.

** 37.7% of all injuries caused players to miss games.

For players that miss games, it has been shown by the NFLPA that they also tend to make less money over the course of their career. ACL injuries, repeated concussions, broken bones and a variety of other injuries end careers through normal game play. There is a literal laundry list of players whose careers ended short due to injuries sustained during the normal course of play. The list of career ending injuries to players that were deliberately delivered with the intent to put them on the shelf, whether it be for the day or longer, is climbing. It is hard to prove as no player in the modern game will admit to that, but it is  real concern.

Jack Tatum broke the 4th and 5th vertebrae of Darryl Stingley in 1978 on a primarily clean hit. In 2007, Kevin Everett sustained a neck injury on a horse collar tackle that wound up resulting in it taking 9 months for him to learn to walk again. The game is littered with injuries like this, there is no need to speed up the process. Until now, the league has done little more than fine dirty players.

I’m really not all about putting flags on the guy’s hips and reinventing the game into something where no one ever gets hurt again. It’s a physical sport and a big money business – people will get hurt. Sometimes it will be serious. It happens. My beef is with people saying that it is okay to intentionally hurt players. My problem is watching games where players are seriously injured and fans cheer their injury. My problem is coaches and team executives placing a monetary, or any, bounty on the health and well being of another player.

What needs to be remembered is that each player is doing their job. They have a life away from the game which includes family and friends – just like the people placing and vying to collect those bounties. A life, that for many players, will likely be filled with discomfort at the least, chronic pain for many, just from playing they game. They are doing that full well knowing what is waiting for them after they leave the game. They do it willingly because the money they can make in many cases is lifetime money. Inter-generational wealth for some. It doesn’t all need to be put at risk unnecessarily and maliciously.

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One Response to “Why the NFL needed a whistleblower”

  1. Tom Laing said

    Football is not really my bag – well Aussie Rule is ok – but anything else is well, too far away, but I enjoy reading your posts as you always have something interesting to say. It is no longer a game and it was in is early days – wasn’t it? – Gladiators and Christians not withstanding – but then that too was big business.

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