NFL Bounties and the Criminal Justice System: Not So Different? – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY

NFL Bounties and the Criminal Justice System:

Not So Different?

by David J. Leonard

Roger Goodell has spoken, which is never good for an NFL player. Because of their participation in “bountygate,” the NFL commissioner suspended Jonathan Vilma (entire season), Anthony Hargrove (8 games), Will Smith (4 games) Scott Fujita (3 games). And what was their infraction? They participated in a program, along with their coaches, that provided big dollars for vicious hits on the playing field, especially those leading “‘knockout’ or ‘cart-off’ hits.”

While others questioned the NFL’s commitment to safety, calling the punishments excessive, Roger Goodell justified suspensions as part of league’s commitment to root out unnecessary violence and protect its players: “It is the obligation of everyone, including the players on the field, to ensure that rules designed to promote player safety, fair play, and the integrity of the game are adhered to and effectively and consistently enforced. Respect for the men that play the game starts with the way players conduct themselves with each other on the field.” Linking the punishment to its effort to promote “safety, fair play and integrity,” Goodell seems to have concluded that encouraging on-the-field violence with financial incentives is counter to not just the NFL but the morals and values of society.

While drawing a wide range of opinions as to whether the “punishment fit the crime,” there seems to be agreement about the evils of a bounty system. According to Bill Plaschke, “The integrity of this country’s most popular sports league has been battered, and its commitment to safety bloodied, with the NFL’s report…that the New Orleans Saints spent three years operating a management-approved bounty pool that paid big money for inflicting injury.”

Similarly Jeff Schultz positioned “bountygate” in the context of morals and values “We’ve addressed this before: Anybody who trivializes the bounty program with comments like, ‘Everybody does it’ (not true) or the NFL loves violence (true, but they don’t love concussions and torn ligaments) is missing the point. There’s a difference between rewarding an athlete for an unscripted play and a premeditated assault. Payments for ‘cart-offs’ aren’t acceptable. We’re taking about people’s livelihoods. And lives.”

For them, Roger Goodell needed to send a message, one made clear that the league would not tolerate any efforts to reward and encourage on-the-field violence.

These suspensions have made clear that “bounties” have no place within football. But as the NFL’s crackdown on paid smackdowns takes hold, what about the bounty system that exists throughout our culture? If encouraging violence with financial incentives, if promises of cash and fame are unacceptable within football, can we say the same about the criminal justice system? If risking people’s lives and potentially destroying their careers violates the values of sport, can we not agree that it is also antithetical to justice and democracy?

If encouraging violence with financial incentives, if promises of cash and fame are unacceptable within football, can we say the same about the criminal justice system?

What is bad for football is surely bad for a system committed to justice and equal protection under the law. And yet ours is a criminal justice system that rewards officers for arrests and tickets, that provides financial incentives for the “war on drugs”, that encourages racial profiling and “stop and frisk” programs.

Continue reading @ NFL Bounties and the Criminal Justice System: Not So Different? – Entertainment & Culture – EBONY.

The White Coach’s Burden | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture

The White Coach’s Burden

By Guest Contributor Dr. David J. Leonard

During my “glory days” playing high school football–among other positions I played linebacker–there was a game where, after several tackles (pretty amazing tackles if I remember them correctly), I found myself rolling on the ground in pain. Their running back decided to thrust his helmet into my gut leaving me gasping for air. I would later find out that the opposing coach encouraged his players to “take me out”: a helmet to the gut would do that for at least one play.

The fact that a nobody player in a nothing high-school football game between two tiny private schools in Los Angeles was “taken out” illustrates how encouraged violence is part and parcel to football culture, even if there were no “‘knockouts’…worth $1,500 and ‘cart-offs’ $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs,” rewards uncovered as part of the New Orleans Saints’ “bounty program” last week.

Yet, the NFL, much of the media, and others have acted as if the Saints’ actions are an aberration that can be easily corrected. As such, the league’s response was predictably clichéd:

The [anti-] bounty rule promotes two key elements of NFL football: player safety and competitive integrity. 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 wasn’t alone with its shock and outrage (and hypocrisy). The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Plaschke referred to the bounty system as “sanctioned evil” that in one game constituted a “blatant mugging by the New Orleans Saints.” Eamon Quinn described bounties as antithetical to the values of sports: “Such malicious intent—regardless of whether the particular hit was legal by the letter of the law—totally undermines the camaraderie and goodwill inherent in participation in sports. It is diametrically opposed to the inherently benevolent nature of sporting competition.” Similarly, ESPN’s Gregg Easterbrook identified the bounty issue as “Sinnersgate” which “is about being paid to cause injury, which takes a beautiful sport and makes it a low, filthy thing.”

Dave Zirin rightfully highlights the hypocrisy in the league’s resisting calls for reform while marketing itself on the “Orwellian staple” of comparing NFL players to warriors:

There is no morality in war — but that doesn’t stop our political and military leaders from insisting otherwise. Invariably, the enemy consists of immoral, medieval cave dwellers who respect neither human life nor the sacred rules of combat. Our side, on the other hand, engages in “surgical strikes” to limit “collateral damage” in a noble effort to liberate the shackled from tyranny. They tell us to ignore the innocent killed in drone attacks, the piling body counts, and just remember that our enemies are savages because they don’t play by civilized rules.

The moral indignity of the media is striking given its own promotion of on-the-field violence. The proliferation of a highlight culture dominated by jarring hits is as much a bounty as any direct or indirect payment system.


An ESPN culture that leads with bone-crushing, de-cleating tackles, turning relatively obscure defensive players into household names, illustrates the role of the media in offering incentive for viciousness on the field. The hypocrisy and faux-outrage from the media as well as fans, given the widespread acceptance of a culture of violence, seems more about disappointment the behavior of any coaches involved; bounty gate isn’t a challenge to perception of football and the NFL, but the league’s patriarchs – the coaches.

Continue reading @ The White Coach’s Burden | Racialicious – the intersection of race and pop culture.