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Steve Chapman: The NFL's bounty of trouble

BY STEVE CHAPMAN Published: March 10, 2012

What is it called when football players are given significant sums of money to hurt their opponents on the field? You may think the term is “National Football League.” But apparently it's “bounty.”

That's what the New Orleans Saints allegedly paid for any hit that left an opposing player groggy, bloody, lame or otherwise unable to continue his participation in the contest. A league investigation found that rewards started at $1,000, for a hit that required someone to be assisted from the field — and went as high as $10,000 in one playoff game for delivering Brett Favre's head on a platter.

The system reportedly was financed by players, with fatherly assistance from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. And the practice had sturdy roots. “The NFL said that neither Coach Sean Payton nor General Manager Mickey Loomis did anything to stop the bounties when they were made aware of them or when they learned of the league's investigation,” reported The New York Times.

It would be an overstatement to say that anyone is shocked by the news that teams would succumb to the temptation to try to win by underhanded means — or that players would get extra cash for separating a quarterback from his senses. It's a violent game; winning is good for your career; and gentle souls tend to get weeded out in high school.

Even victims shrugged off the report. Former San Diego linebacker Shawne Merriman, whose knee was injured in what he says was a bounty-inspired hit, wrote on Twitter, “Why is this a big deal now? Bounties been going on forever.”

Nor is it exactly unprecedented for players to act with malice aforethought. In 1977, St. Louis Cardinals offensive lineman Conrad Dobler's habit of punching, kicking and spitting on opponents landed him on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “Pro Football's Dirtiest Player.”

But the advance of civilization, or something, has brought a diminished tolerance for wanton destruction. Pitchers are no longer allowed to bounce baseballs off hitters' heads, and the National Hockey League has taken steps to prevent concussions. Even football fans know the difference between a hard tackle and aggravated assault.

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