When I first got off the phone with Doug Brown, I agreed with him. Thought the NFL bounty “scandal” was much ado about nothing.
But 24 hours of sober second thought got me thinking. And reading.
And now I’m not so sure the former NFL and Winnipeg Blue Bombers defensive lineman has this one right.
Brown’s reaction to the news NFL defensive co-ordinator Gregg Williams paid bonus money to members of the New Orleans Saints if they injured an opponent: a shrug of his big shoulders.
That’s a popular opinion. The idea of football players trying to hurt each other, “Well, duh.”
“It’s just an optics thing the NFL is trying to address, in terms of being a public relations nightmare,” Brown said. “To the average viewer, bounty hunting and injuring people sounds horrible. But break down the game of football, and that’s what we do. We are bounty hunters.
“No one likes to spell it out, or look behind the curtain and see the guy pulling all the strings. But ... we’re paid to impact other players on offence. And the more vigorously and the more punishment that we can enact, the more successful we are as players.”
Brown backs up his argument with some well-thought-out hyperbole.
If every hit he put on an opposing quarterback or running back had knocked the player out of the game, legally, he would have been the highest paid football player in the world.
Brown uses B.C. Lions-turned-Minnesota Vikings linebacker Solomon Elimimian as an example.
“The guy is voted as the hardest hitter. Why is that a prized attribute? Why do you think he’s going to get paid more money because of his reputation of being a ferocious hitter? What does that do?”
Occasionally leaves people wrapped in tape and ice on the sidelines, that’s what.
I get that violence is an inherent part of the game.
But when you offer specific bonuses for knocking players out of a game, doesn’t that cross a line? Doesn’t it violate some kind of code of honour, the same code that says you don’t go for a guy’s knees?
Brown had his own experience with “bounties” during his four-year stint in the NFL. But it was more an “underlying sentiment” than the structured system Williams has acknowledged running in New Orleans.
It began with the common, albeit against the rules, practice of players receiving cash for big plays like quarterback sacks.
“I was in a scenario on a team in the NFL, if you sacked a quarterback and he was knocked out of the game, you probably would have got a double bonus,” Brown said.
In the CFL, teammates would offer him a hundred bucks if he got a couple of sacks that day, but it was more of a fun, gambling thing than a bounty.
Brown argues bounties would have no effect on the game, on either side of the border.
“Because it’s already such a ferocious, brutal, fast and violent and vicious game as it is. It’s not like $100 in the CFL or $2,000 or $3,000 in the NFL is going to change the way anyone plays the game. Especially when the penalties (for an attempt to injure) are a thousand times more severe than what you stand to earn.”
But what about the mentality? And what about the honour?
If society doesn’t tolerate premeditated attempts to injure, how can football not only tolerate, but celebrate them?
Friday I found a story about recently retired NFLer Coy Wire, who while with Buffalo in 2003 was part of a gang tackle that ended the career of Detroit Lions running back James Stewart.
Wire sees this as a chance for the game to change its thinking, without losing the violent hits and competitiveness we love to watch.
In an interview with ESPN, Wire said something else, something that really made me think.
Something he’d like to say to Stewart, if he could find him, nine years after he helped end his career.
“For a brief moment in my life, I was excited that that happened,” Wire said. “And for that I’m ashamed.”
The game should be, too.