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Injury stats irrelevant to existence of bounty program

J. Vilma AP

While on vacation from an existence that is pretty much a continuous vacation, I’ve tried to take a bit of a break from the whole bounty thing.

It’s been easy, because not much has been happening.  But something contained in linebacker Jonathan Vilma’s recent affidavit requires a brief comment.

Or maybe a not-so-brief comment.

Vilma’s affidavit outlines statistics regarding actual injuries inflicted by the Saints defense from 2009 through 2011, the three years in which the team allegedly had a bounty program.  Under the heading “Objective Facts,” Vilma points out that the Saints defense was penalized nine times for infractions that resulted in fines, that Vilma himself was fined only twice during that period, that Vilma was flagged only three times for personal fouls during that period, and that the Saints “injured” fewer opposing players per game from 2009 through 2011 than every team except the Chargers.  (Those numbers either had been leaked to or generated by the Los Angeles Times for a recent op-ed arguing that the injuries actually inflicted by the Saints don’t justify the punishment imposed.  As explained below, the Times — and Vilma — have missed the point.)

Setting aside the fact that the high-low “give me my money” hit on Brett Favre inexplicably wasn’t flagged (but, please, give the locked-out game officials every last penny they want), these objective facts are objectively irrelevant to the sanctions the league has imposed.

Though the NFL has done a poor job of explaining its concerns and backing them up with unassailable proof, the league is troubled not by the fact that more injuries occurred but by the fact that the Saints created an environment in which there was an incentive to inflict injury through the application of clean, legal hits.

That’s where the divide regarding semantics arises.  But for the cartoonish pre-game rants from former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams (which by all appearances the players ignored), there’s no evidence that the Saints specifically encouraged players to inflict or exacerbate injuries.  Those fewer-than-200 pages produced by the NFL in advance of last month’s appeal hearing, for example, contain several pages of specific pre-game notes and observations regarding an upcoming opponent.  Nowhere in those pages does there appear any Longest Yard-style chronicle of the broken bones or glass jaws or other weak spots on an opponent’s body.

Given the level of detail revealed by those pre-game notes, the use of full-blown bounty program undoubtedly would have provided players with that kind of advance information.

From the league’s perspective, a program that encourages players to try to inflict injuries legally and through “clean” hits has no place in a game that is trying its damnedest to be as safe as reasonably possible.  For reasons that we still can’t discern, the league never has explained the situation that simply and clearly.

That said, Commissioner Roger Goodell articulated the league’s position from that perspective in the July 2, 2012 letter upholding the bounty suspensions.  Coincidentally, Goodell focuses on this point when dismissing the argument that the Saints’ behavior didn’t result in an uptick in penalties and fines.

“[W]hether a hit was ultimately subject to a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness is irrelevant for these purposes,” Goodell wrote.  “[I]ncentivizing players for hits that injure or increase the risk of injury to opposing players undermines the integrity of, and public confidence in, the game of professional football.”

Those 48 words crystallize succinctly and completely the crux of the league’s concerns.  So why hasn’t that message been sent more often in the past four-plus months?

Maybe the league fears that making the issue that simple would invite criticism regarding the hypocrisy of a culture that for decades marketed — and thus encouraged — players to apply clean, legal hits as hard as possible, and thus in a way that could inflict injury.  Maybe the league fears that the media and the fans would simply revolt against the notion that, as long as hits are clean and legal, it doesn’t matter whether the player delivering the clean and legal hit is trying to inflict injury.

Regardless, the league has tried from the get-go to make the system seem more sinister than it really is.  And perhaps the real purpose for disclosing the stats contained in Vilma’s affidavit is to finally get more members of the media — and in turn more fans — to embrace the philosophical debate regarding whether the league’s characterization of offering walking-around money to players who apply clean, legal hits as a “bounty” is fair, accurate, and/or just.

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14 Responses to “Injury stats irrelevant to existence of bounty program”
  1. siriusred67 says: Jul 19, 2012 3:17 PM

    You were doing fine until the second-to-last paragraph. There is nothing inherently wrong with encouraging players to apply clean, hard hits with the potential for injuring an opponent. Adding a monetary reward for doing so is the one and only problem in this scandal.

  2. tpa43 says: Jul 19, 2012 3:17 PM

    Hold on. When was it determined that you aren’t supposed to inflict pain into your opponent. Isn’t this football? Stop pretending that all of this wasn’t part of the game two years ago.

  3. robf2010 says: Jul 19, 2012 3:27 PM

    It was a well-orchestrated league campaign to make a mountain out of a molehill. They had to. They couldn’t make it about player safety because no one was hurt and they couldn’t make it about the money because the money was peanuts.

    They violated a rule and denied doing so (According to the league, anyway). That rates punishment. What the league handed down was excessive and I might even say personal.

  4. wfmulder says: Jul 19, 2012 3:28 PM

    siriusred67 says:
    Jul 19, 2012 3:17 PM
    You were doing fine until the second-to-last paragraph. There is nothing inherently wrong with encouraging players to apply clean, hard hits with the potential for injuring an opponent. Adding a monetary reward for doing so is the one and only problem in this scandal.
    __________________________________________________

    So obviously you have an issue with incentive clauses in contracts that state if a defensive players gets a certain amount of tackles per year they get a bonus, or if a defensive player gets a certain amount of sacks they get a bonus? Both or done in the confines of clean, legal hits and ARE BINDING by a CONTRACT. How do the two differ, please explain?

  5. eaglesw00t says: Jul 19, 2012 3:39 PM

    Completely irrelevant. Certain QBs get nailed and never get a call.

    You can nail most RBs as hard as you like wherever you like, and most of the time theres no call.

    Come on Vilma. Is there anything else you want to throw against the wall in this big old pile of sh?

  6. sfsaintsfan says: Jul 19, 2012 3:42 PM

    And two New York Giants players admitted that they specifically targeted Kyle Williams because of his concussion history prior to the NFC Championship Game and the NFL did NOTHING about it!

    This is all about getting in front of the concussion lawsuits and making a scapegoat out of the Saints, nothing more and nothing less…..

    And it is all about illegal hits and injuries according to the media, if not why else would you and everybody else not be constantly fixated on that ONE hit on Brett Favre? The FACT that the Saints were the 2nd “cleanest” team in the NFL over a three year time period, second only to the Chargers, should mean something, shouldn’t it?

  7. saintsfan26 says: Jul 19, 2012 3:43 PM

    Roger Goodell should go to San Francisco and teach that rookie cornerback how to backpedal. He seems to be an expert.

  8. blackandbluedivision says: Jul 19, 2012 3:45 PM

    Of course it’s irrelevant whether there was bounty program. He just wants to see what evidence you have on him that there was one. So he can vehemently deny it.

  9. malgorthewarrior says: Jul 19, 2012 4:02 PM

    Hypocrisy indeed. You can’t get mad at players for inflicting clean, legal hits.

    The concept of hitting or going “too hard” while still in the confines of the rules is silly on-face. How can you enforce such interpretations?

    If the NFL has a problem with the way those players were playing on the field, they should make more rules to govern those hits. I’m sure eventually they will.

    I think we all know what this is-the NFL covering their butts to avoid losing these concussion lawsuits…but I don’t think it helps their case to keep reminding us that clean, legal hits still cause injury.

  10. realysickofbountygate says: Jul 19, 2012 4:24 PM

    Having a “bounty” program is contrary to league rules regardles if they injured anyone or not. Sports betting by a player is illegal – regardless if they shave points or not. If you play in the league – you play by their rules. Sick of Saints fans and players finding every excuse in the book to avoid punishment. Covering up the existence of the program – guilty of not following the rules. Maybe when athletes and those associated such as coaches etc. are held to following the rules there will be less examples such as Dez Bryant, A Peterson, etc. etc. in the news, and more stories like the Aaron Rodgers contract posted earlier

  11. mrpowers88 says: Jul 19, 2012 4:30 PM

    People should realize that the Saints defense in those 3 years just wasn’t that good at all.

    All they did in their Super Bowl Season was force more turnovers than in any other year and Will Smith had a career year. And even then, the only reason they beat the Vikings was that they repeatedly hit Favre late in the NFC Championship.

    And through this whole process, the players haven’t done anything to actually help themselves.

    They repeatedly lied to NFL investigators; they complained about how overly-hard the suspensions are; they complained about how the process that their union agreed to is unfair; they refused to produce any REAL defense at their appeal; and now they’re saying that since nobody was hurt (and no money changed hands), that there must have been no system at all.

  12. joekain says: Jul 19, 2012 6:07 PM

    The more I hear about this Saints saga, I cannot help but think that this has very little to do with player safety or injuries or locker-room banter…

    All this is about (like most everything) is MONEY $$$. As far as the NFL is concerned, you can perform on Sundays, but you cannot be paid for it outside of what is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement (i.e. no non-contract bonuses).

    Let me make one thing clear. Pay-for-performance v/s pay-for-injury is irrelevant. Paying cash to a player for a QB sack or an INT is a no-no to the league, as is paying cash for a hit (legal or illegal) that results in injury. However, I don’t think fans would think it a big deal if the NFL cracked down on QBs or RBs buying their O-Line Rolex watches at the end of the season.

    So, the league brought up the injury angle, in part to show off the image that they’re taking “player safety” seriously now, especially in the face of ongoing litigation by former players. So rightfully, players like Vilma are gonna challenge the league on that front, because (according to them), they didn’t set out to injure with malice, but to play within the rules of the game and dole out some $$$ as an incentive for big plays.

  13. zn0rseman says: Jul 19, 2012 11:49 PM

    Setting aside the fact that the high-low “give me my money” hit on Brett Favre inexplicably wasn’t flagged (but, please, give the locked-out game officials every last penny they want)

    ——

    Ha! Funniest line I think I’ve ever read here!

  14. sarentack says: Nov 26, 2012 2:57 PM

    The reason its irrelevant?

    Thats simple, because Baltimore and San Fransisco run a bounty system that has taken out numerous players, last year San Fran took out 6 RBs in the first 7 games. Thats no coincidence.

    Meaning if it was Relevant (only to the NFL) then they would need to investigate the Habaugh brothers and probably some other coaches to like Dick Lebeau.

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