Like Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca, I’m shocked — shocked! — to hear National Football League players are being paid to injure players on opposing teams. From Steve Coll of the New Yorker:
On Friday, the National Football League disclosed some of the results of its self-directed investigation of “bounty” payments made to players on the New Orleans Saints. Some of the payments, the N.F.L. said, were handed out to Saints players as rewards for “inflicting injuries on opposing players that would result in them being removed from a game.”
I must be missing something. Aren’t all NFL players — all those who play defense, that is — rewarded for “inflicting injuries on opposing players” while trying to keep the opposing team from scoring points? All the better, from the defensive point of view, if the injuries knock opposing players out of the games. Some of the most lauded players in NFL history — Lawrence Taylor of the New York Giants, for one — are those who excelled at injuring players.
Oh, I see… The fuss is about the fact that players were offered monetary incentives to injure particular players. As if the head hunters on defense don’t always try to direct their violence toward certain players — most obviously, the opposing team’s quarterback. As if there isn’t always a monetary incentive — it’s called a contract — for using violence effectively while playing defense.
Coll speculates about the particulars of the payoffs. Were they made in cash from a special pool kept by Gregg Williams, the former Saints defensive coordinator? Were they added to paychecks, with taxes deducted?
There is something foggy-headed about Coll’s response to this so-called scandal. He singles out Williams for bringing “ugliness” into the game, but later on mentions “that more than two dozen Saints players, the general manager, and the head coach knew what Williams was doing.” He states that pro football’s long-term survival from violence-related litigation might depend on it becoming “a fast, acrobatic, spread-out passing game with fewer full-speed hits and much more athleticism.” But then he admits that no one “has quite figured out how to make a passing-driven version of the game work without at least some controlled violence.”
In the end, Coll reveals that he’s been trying to make a moral argument: “In any event, any business that evolves a workplace culture where dozens of people from top to bottom collectively lose sight of the difference between fair competition and corruption deserves to fail.”
And what is the difference between “fair competition and corruption” in an organization that became extraordinarily wealthy by rewarding players for effective use of so-called controlled violence? Coll doesn’t say, so I’ll say it for him: There is no difference.