In a development that hardly can be called “breaking news” because it’s neither “breaking” nor “news,” Browns linebacker Scott Fujita will deny the existence of a bounty program in New Orleans during his Friday meeting with Commissioner Roger Goodell, according to Ed Werder of ESPN.
Specifically, Fujita will reinforce the prior testimony that there was “no pay-for-injury system” and no bounty program during Fujita’s time with the Saints.
It would have been “breaking news” if Fujita had planned to walk into the conference room and confess.
Here’s the primary issue, which continues to be largely ignored or misunderstood. No one has disputed that the Saints had a pay-for-performance system. And it appears that the pay-for-performance system included payment for clean, legal hits that prevented opponents from continuing.
The league has at times tiptoed around the question of whether giving guys a little walking-around money to do something they already have an incentive to do merits stiff punishment of the players involved. The players have insisted that there never was a payment offered for deliberately inflicting injury — and, technically, there wasn’t. But the system also may have resulted in a technical violation of rules, based on how the league defines the term “bounty.”
The real factual dispute comes from whether there were specific bounties placed on specific players. The NFL claims that Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma offered $10,000 to anyone who knocked Kurt Warner out of the 2009 NFC divisional playoff game and $10,000 to anyone who knocked Brett Favre out of the 2009 NFC title game. Vilma denies it, strongly.
Fujita is accused only of funding the broader program. And the question becomes whether the general contributions he allegedly made to a pool that generated payments for big plays and big hits rise to the level of something that compels his suspension for three games, especially since he was simply participating in a program that defensive coordinator Gregg Williams put in place.
That’s another point everyone seems to be missing. Though the players shouldn’t be blameless if the allegations are true, football players do what they’re told to do. When the players have no reason to think that there’s anything wrong with a petty-cash system that provides the equivalent of a helmet sticker for doing things players already try to do, there’s no reason to question what the coach wants the players to do.
Here, there were no warnings for the players. Based on the suspensions issued, there also was little or no consideration given to the practicalities of the situation. Regardless of what was happening, the Saints weren’t delivering Nancy Kerrigan knee hits after the whistle. Guys were playing football hard, and when they did things that helped the team win, they got recognition via a fraction of what they already were paid to do what they already had an incentive to do.
We realize that it’s important for the league to seal off any potential avenues for future concussion litigation, but there’s a way to do that while also being fair to the players who saw no problem with exchanging a little extra money for doing what they already were trying to do.