With the launch of the 2012 regular season only five days away, Commissioner Roger Goodell has closed the book on an eventful (to say the least) offseason by sending a letter to all NFL fans.
And while the letter makes no mention of the New Orleans Saints, it’s replete with references to the predicament that has plagued the league for month.
“Bounty” or “bounties” appears seven times in the seven-paragraph letter.
“Let me be clear: there is no place for bounties in football,” Goodell writes. “No exceptions. No excuses. Bounties are an affront to everything that competitive sports should represent. Everyone in the NFL is responsible for adhering to these rules and we are all accountable for protecting the safety of our players — present and future.”
And while most casual fans regard a bounty as an offer of money for the specific infliction of injury, Goodell’s letter defines it broadly.
“The bounty prohibition forbids offering or accepting any reward — cash or otherwise — for on-field misconduct, plays that incentivize or result in injury to opposing players, or for performance against an opposing player, group of players, or team,” Goodell writes.
By including within the definition “any reward . . . for performance against an opposing player, group of players, or team,” Goodell has indirectly admitted that pretty much every team has had bounties.
What supposedly separated the Saints from other teams was the offer of cash for clean, legal hits that resulted in injury to an opponent, along with the publicly unsubstantiated claim that linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered cash for injury. No one can credibly deny that other teams and/or players on other teams routinely have paid players for “performance against an opposing player, group of players, or team.”
It’s the NFL’s version of the helmet sticker, and the significant punishments imposed against the Saints surely won’t stop players from establishing discreetly among themselves a fine-and-reward system that takes money in for penalties and other blunders, and that pays money out for things the player already is trying to do, like intercept the ball or force a fumble.
Of course, players also are already trying to inflict injury via clean, legal hits, which would tend to strip the penalties against the Saints of some of their stigma. But that debate still hasn’t been fully framed, and probably never will be.