If you’ve been away this weekend or cooped up in a hole to avoid the weather, you might have missed the big story that hit all the media outlets on Friday afternoon. I first found out through our friends at CheeseheadTV that the New Orleans Saints have been found guilty of offering bounties (or payouts) to defensive players as a performance incentive. It wasn’t only for interceptions or fumble recoveries, though. No, they were getting rewarded for injuring other players.
I, for one, found this appalling.
Now, I’m no fool. I am well aware that the rules of the league are often broken to gain a competitive advantage. And some people in the CheeseheadTV comments section feigned a sarcastic state of shock in light of this news.
But what really got to me were the comments and tweets around the internet that this is commonplace and not that big of a deal. The only reason it’s a huge story is because the Saints actually got caught. Some people likened it to the use of performances enhancing drugs (PEDs), in that it happens all the time, yet only a few are ever found out.
There was even an article penned by Matt Bowen for the Chicago Tribune, titled “Bounties part of game across the NFL.” In the article, Bowen shares his experience as a player who was coached by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams with the Washington Redskins. Daily player fines for breaking the rules or miscues during practice would be gathered and “stashed away at the team facility.”
Then, after the coaches reviewed the game film, the money would be handed back out for things like “big hits, clean hits by the rule book.” Extra cash was earned for interceptions, sacks, and forced fumbles, and during the playoffs, the bounty rewards would increase.
“I ate it up,” admits Matt Bowen.
And really, who wouldn’t? Cash incentives for performance can be a big motivator. It is a classic case of B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning. (Sorry, it’s the teacher in me.) Behaviors are supported through positive and negative reinforcers, as well as positive and negative punishment. In this case, breaking the rules and mental errors during practice are met with negative punishments (fines), while exceptional performances are met with positive reinforcers (bounties).
During the season, we saw an example of this with our own Green Bay Packers wide receivers. Jason Wilde, the Packers beat writer for ESPN Wisconsin, wrote an article back in October explaining the system. For every dropped ball by a wide receiver in a game, they would have to buy the whole group a $100 Best Buy gift card.
Although, as tweeted by Wilde on Friday, “they had to cease that, too.”
To be honest, I don’t think most fans have a problem with incentives for performance, whether negative or positive. Having to shell out the money for a bunch of gift cards because you dropped a pass is pretty harmless. And being rewarded for a sack, an interception, or even a big hit doesn’t have the ring of foul play. No, the big problem with this whole situation is offering a cash incentive for injuring another player.
I’m sorry, Matt Bowen. I know you played in the NFL and I didn’t. I know that you understand the atmosphere of the game better than I do. But I just don’t agree that this is something to be accepted in professional sports.
“I’m not saying it’s right. Or ethical,” writes Bowen in his article. “But the NFL isn’t little league football with neighborhood dads playing head coach. This is the business of winning. If that means stepping over some line, you do it.”
Wow. So it’s okay to break the rules as long as you win?
What is the purpose of teaching children good sportsmanship if it is thrown out the window once they’ve grown up? If we want our young athlete to eventually make it into the big leagues, then by your standards he would better served by having a bounty system in place at every level. That way by the time they finish college, they are ready for anything. They’ll make the big plays and do whatever they need to do to win, even if it means “stepping over some line.”
Can’t you see what’s wrong with this?
Besides, these are professionals we are talking about. It is their job to play this game hard and give it their best. Is that not motivation enough? Winning games, making it to the Super Bowl, getting more playing time, landing a big contract . . . is that not enough incentive to perform well? Or are you telling me that you need these bounties to be a great player?
Not to mention the fact that players get paid hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars each year to play the game. Apparently that’s not enough for some.
I get it. This happens all the time. But that alone does not make it right, and it certainly does not mean it should be accepted. If the culture of the NFL has to change, then I am all for it. Giving money to players for injuring others is a despicable practice. These are people’s lives we’re talking about. Earning a few thousand bucks for breaking a guy’s ankles and ending his career is sickening.
The reinforcement of behavior through rewards and punishments is something we experience in all walks of life, but bounties for harming other players have no place in the NFL. There is simply no excuse for it.——————Follow @ChadToporski