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Big hits are good, bounties not so much

MICHAEL GEBELEIN
Special to LTN

Until Peyton Manning was released by the Indianapolis Colts on Wednesday, the airwaves were full of nothing but talk about the NFL and the New Orleans Saints bounty scandal. The first ripples from this mess are just now being felt, and even though some rules may change and some people may lose their jobs, it isn’t going to result in the kind of apocalypse for professional football that it’s been portrayed to produce.
But everyone loves a great story, and bounties, and those who hunt them are extremely and strangely popular (see The Dog and Boba Fett). It sounds cool. Very, very wrong, but cool.
The point being, this bounty thing is big. Or, at least, that’s what the bosses at ESPN and Sports Illustrated want us to think.
The looks on the faces of presenters and players discussing this topic are priceless. If anyone wanted to see what hypocrisy looked like in the flesh, this is their chance. There have been not-so-quiet whispers about players being paid to injure other players forever. Former athletes from every major sport are coming out and admitting that they’ve either been the target of bounties or placed bounties themselves. The “Aw, shucks” façade that’s being ponied out by some sports personalities is ludicrous.
If players and teams are left unchecked, as they have been, a bounty program is a natural progression for a defense-oriented team. Everyone can agree that paying incentives for injuries, rather than big hits, is over the line, but that line isn’t, and never has been, clearly defined.
There will be new rules, especially since Saints head coach Sean Payton has admitted that bounties existed on his team, which indicates even more that it’s been going on everywhere. How those rules will read and how they will be enforced is another matter. Will the NFL discourage defensive players from trying to make the biggest hits possible? That would be like NASCAR telling drivers not to wreck or drive fast — it won’t, and can’t, happen.
Teams have probably had bounty schemes since football was first played with a pigskin. I watch football, like a lot of people, for the big hits. There’s nothing that can make a person cringe like Ndamukong Suh trying to tear a quarterback’s head off of his shoulders. Defensive players are encouraged, every day, to make the most spectacular and high velocity hits possible. If the target of that hit is a quarterback, even better.
The kind of men who have the ability and mentality suitable for professional football haven’t changed. What has changed is the image the NFL protects so dearly. Just look at the major story lines from this previous season. They’re all feel-good, group hug fairytales that really have nothing to do with football.
Hopefully this new scandal will put a damper on that.
Michael Gebelein is a sports writer with the Lincoln Times-News.

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