They strap modern day suits of armor to their bodies and deliver violent and quite often dangerous blows to one another. It’s primitive, it’s savage, and it’s pretty damn entertaining, but with that comes a culture that isn’t easily identifiable to an increasingly politically correct world.
It’s not easy to understand unless you’ve strapped on a helmet and even when you have, there is a brutish subculture to the NFL (and football) that seems unfathomable. News of a bounty program in New Orleans and Washington under current St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams was shocking at first glance, but in reality, the only thing surprising is the fact that this story has surfaced at all.
There’s an unspoken code among athletes surrounding the element of privacy and even secrecy in the locker room. It’s a sanctuary for testosterone-filled high jinks and other sordid behaviors.
The idea of remunerating athletes for barbaric acts of violence designed with inflicting bodily harm in mind is a tough pill to swallow. It warrants comparison to contracting an assassin and gives new meaning to the term, “hitman.”
It doesn’t deserve anyone’s sympathy and it may be morally bankrupt, but the honesty of the situation is that it’s part of playing football. As appalling as it may be, this is something that has gone on for nearly as long as the game itself, and it’s not quarantined at the game’s highest level.
The University of Miami infamously rewarded players for taking out the opposition in the 1980’s and 1990’s. When an NCAA investigation brought this to light, they were demonized as isolated acts of an institution that promotes thuggish behavior.
That may be true in some regards, but the idea that this sort of behavior was isolated is beyond naive. This is an issue that plagues football, not just at the collegiate and professional levels, but also at the high school level and possibly even further down the line.
The public may try to deflect the consequences to guys like Gregg Williams and Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma, but as ESPN NFL Analyst Damien Woody put it, this is a league-wide phenomenon.
That certainly doesn’t make it right, and it’s not the sort of behavior you’d like to see from a league that shapes our youth. However, these athletes are already being paid millions of dollars to perform similar functions, and we promote some of this behavior with a win-at-all-costs attitude.
By any means necessary, and in today’s day and age, the cost of victory is steep.
As an evolved species, we feel that we have to react with outrage at such primal conduct, but the reality is that we probably wish we didn’t know at all, allowing us to turn a blind eye to this unsettling truth. Unfortunately, ignorance is no longer an option and this controversy must be addressed.
But can you challenge the status quo without completely changing the culture of the game?
Perhaps the single greatest aspect of American football is it’s physicality, and fans are already howling at the “feminization” of the league in response to the rule changes involving player safety. Obviously, you could make any sort of reward programs like this illegal and punishable, but that won’t eliminate devastating injury all together, and paranoia over what is and isn’t intentional is almost certain to run rampant.
So, how do you protect the sanctity of such a beloved sport while eliminating some of this brutal behavior?
It’s a question that isn’t easily answered, but will have to be addressed in light of this scandal.