New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma graces this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated in a two-point stance under the headline Bounty Culture after the league revealed that it had found evidence of players accepting cash bonuses for intentionally injuring opponents dating back to the 2009 season.
Former Saints Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams administered a “pay for performance program” which rewarded players for making great plays like fumble recoveries and interceptions, but also paid for taking key opponents out of the game. Since the story broke, it has been revealed that Williams also employed the program with his previous employers, the Washington Redskins.
I’m not naïve enough to believe that this kind of action isn’t common in professional sports. I’ve also been very critical of some of the safety decisions made by NFL Commissioner Rodger Goodell in the last few years, including moving the kickoff back 5 yards, his abundance of helmet-to-helmet fines, and what has seemed like targeted discipline of Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
As a fan who has watched Dick “Violence was His Lifestyle” Butkus’ highlight reel hundreds of times and cringed while repeatedly watching Lawrence Taylor’s career-ending hit on Joe Theismann, I can sympathize with people who say that professional football has lost its grit.
But watching Brett Favre get mauled in the 2009 NFC Championship Game well after he had gotten rid of the ball and Kurt Warner take a devastating blow following an interception in 2010, I’m ready to see the hammer come down.
Goodell has frequently said that he wants to leave a legacy of improved player safety, and every step of that crusade has had critics pulling it down along the way. With this case, Goodell finally has an issue that everyone should be willing to get behind.
So far, we’ve had two of the sports world’s worst role models come out to defend the Saints. Former NBA player and current TNT basketball analyst Charles Barkley called the unnamed source a “punk” and a “snitch” on “The Dan Patrick Show” this week. Charles, was it that long ago that you limped off the court to end your career?
Another horrible authority on player safety, former All-Pro linebacker and admitted steroid user Bill Romanowski went on a San Francisco radio show and said that this is all getting blown out of proportion by the media. This comes from guy who once told “60 Minutes” that he intentionally broke opponents fingers at the bottom of pileups during his career.
I think Bill needs to realize that just because the Saints are now officially his peers, he doesn’t need to stick up for them.
I’m hoping that when Goodell finally announces the punishments, we see some fines, suspensions and even removed draft picks. This is his chance to nip a horrible aspect of the game in the bud, and anyone sticking up for the Saints is deterring a higher quality of the game, and a higher quality of life for the players.