Word around town is that various players and coaches for the New Orleans Saints face “lengthy and unprecedented suspensions” after NFL security uncovered a team bounty system that rewarded players for delivering game-ending hits. The fact that the NFL is willing to make an example out of one of their model franchises by forgoing the garden variety 4 game suspension in favor of stiff punishment lets us know that they’re aiming to set an example. During a press release on the issue at hand, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell explained his gripe with the situation:
“It is our responsibility to protect player safety and the integrity of our game, and this type of conduct will not be tolerated. We have made significant progress in changing the culture with respect to player safety and we are not going to relent. We have more work to do and we will do it.”
The NFL would love for everyone to believe they’re about to drop the hammer on Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, Mickey Loomis and a bunch of New Orleans Saints players because their actions were a detriment to the health of opposing NFL players. As we all know, the NFL has taken an increased interest in player safety over the last few seasons with rule changes to protect quarterbacks, receivers, and kick returners. The problem is, ending violence and injuries in the NFL is like trying to end piracy on the internet…… it’s a pipe dream. You cannot end serious bodily harm in football without irrevocably breaking the game, and you cannot end piracy on the internet without irrevocably destroying the world wide web.
So what do you do?
You pussyfoot around the issue and introduce various rules and ordinances to give the illusion that things are going to get better and that you’re proactive in your quest. The NFL is a multi-billion dollar business that has pulled off the magical feat of marketing a bloody, violent, gladiator sport to the masses as a family friendly entertainment option. It’s a star crossed relationship that shouldn’t work, and both participants in this love-affair keep up a charade so the house of cards doesn’t come tumbling down. The American public tunes in every Sunday and pretends that there aren’t 22 guys trying to legally cripple each other, and the NFL pretends they’re making vigorous progress towards the “safe NFL” that’s going to appear one day.
So where does the New Orleans Saints suspensions fit into all of this? It’s politics.
In exchange for the NFL selling us an inherently violent game as our national pastime, they go the extra mile in keeping up the image of the league (and more importantly, the dollars flowing). This means no black people “acting black” in the endzone, no criminally inclined players, and no rogue coaching staffs giving bonuses for injuries.
No individual comes before the league. No individual screws up the cash cow.