Five years ago, former Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter tried unsuccessfully to get Congress engaged in the Spygate controversy. Now, another Senator plans to push for Congressional exploration of the Saints’ bounty fiasco.
Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) has announced that a hearing of the Judiciary Committee will be convened on the topic.
“Many sports involve human contact and the chance of serious injury. But when an injury is by design and is paid for, we’ve moved beyond any definition of sport,” Durbin said in a statement released by his office. “I’m happy that the NFL acted swiftly once a bounty program was discovered. But questions remain about what the NFL and other professional and collegiate sports organizations are doing to protect their players and the integrity of their sports.
“After consulting with Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Crime Subcommittee Chairman Sheldon Whitehouse, I will convene a hearing to explore the prevalence of this bounty practice and determine whether existing sports bribery laws should be expanded to include a prohibition on bounties.”
The question of whether existing laws should be expanded overlooks the question of whether creative application of existing laws would encompass the behavior in which the Saints were engaged.
“Let’s be real basic about it here,” Senator Durbin told Howard Fendrich of the Associated Press. “If this activity were taking place off of a sporting field, away from a court, nobody would have a second thought [about whether it’s wrong]. ‘You mean, someone paid you to go out and hurt someone?’
“It goes way beyond the rules of any sporting contest, at least team contest, to intentionally inflict harm on another person for a financial reward.”
Senator Durbin announced the hearing Thursday, on the floor of the Senate. Representatives from the NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB, and NCAA will be invited to testify.
We fully expect a wide assortment of comments articulating the notion that Congress has better things to do right now. But Congress routinely gets involved in matters that speak directly to the public interest. And given the prevalence and importance of sports in American society, this is a matter that strikes at the heart of the integrity of the games.
Throw in the fact that bounties encourage the intentional infliction of injury, and the failure of Congress to explore the situation would represent a failure of our government to protect its citizens.