On March 2, the NFL told the world that the Saints had been using a bounty system for three straight seasons, offering players money for “cart-offs” and “knockouts.” On March 3, Jets coach Rex Ryan issued a statement claiming he has never used them.
“This is something that is being handled by the NFL office,” Ryan said. “I’ve never condoned it and I’ve never coached it.”
But while Ryan may not have condoned or coached the habit of offering money to players for knocking opposing players out of games (whether they leave on their own power or via a stretcher or a golf cart), Ryan has condoned — and coached — the habit of knocking opposing players out of games. We know this because Ryan said so in his 2011 book, Play Like You Mean It.
From pages 16-17 of the chapter called Blunt-Force Trauma: “Each game we might also designate an opposing player with a dot. Players don’t want to be dotted by the New York Jets, because that means we want that dude knocked out of the game. Of course, it has to be legal and by the book. We don’t play dirty, and no way will we intentionally hurt a player with an illegal, cheap shot. We dot players fair and square. There are players out there who think they are badasses, and you just might see two of our players knock the hell out of him. Pow! Pow! That’s our mentality. Everything we do is aggressive and, hey, we may make a mistake, but we will go one hundred miles per hour and we will knock the hell out of you. Big hits create turnovers. You haven’t been Punked — you’ve been Dotted!”
Last year, when I read Ryan’s book, I applied a Post-It note to that paragraph, but it didn’t strike me as anything scandalous or improper or worth mentioning in a separate post. In the wake of the Saints’ bounty investigation, the mentality exhibited by Ryan doesn’t seem all that different than the mentality underpinning the pool of cash that went to players for making big plays — whether interceptions or fumble recoveries or knocking “that dude” out of the game.
The only difference between what the Saints did and what Ryan does is that the Saints violated the salary cap by paying players for doing things they already were being paid to do. The Saints didn’t want to injure players, notwithstanding the cartoonishly graphic urgings of former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. They simply wanted to knock players out of games. Just like Rex Ryan.
But since an attempt to knock a player out of a game necessarily may inflict injury on the player, the NFL felt compelled to take severe and swift action. So why has the punishment been confined only to the Saints?
The goal here isn’t to get the Jets in trouble. The goal is to illustrate that the rabbit hole goes far deeper than the NFL cares to admit. Instead, the league wants to pour cement in it, hammer the Saints in order to get everyone else’s attention, and move on.
Here’s hoping that the effort includes telling Rex Ryan that it’s no longer acceptable to “dot” opposing players.