The Boba Fetts of Bourbon Street

The New Orleans Saints are in rather a lot of trouble for their recently discovered “bounty” program, in which defenders were paid to injure opposing players.

Unsurprisingly, lots of pro players have said that this sort of thing goes far beyond this one team, and is quite common throughout the league. I can readily believe it.

It’s rare for a game to go by without hearing some analyst say “they must rattle the quarterback”, or they must “apply pressure to the quarterback” or something like that. Well, that means they need to try really hard to hit the quarterback. Because he’s an essential player in a team’s offense. That’s an accepted piece of strategy; and how much of a stretch is it from that to paying bounties to injure important players?

The reason New Orleans got caught, I suspect, is that they were too obvious about it. The institutionalized nature of the system was what exposed them. I bet the investigations will discover that such programs exist on other teams, but are less regulated and probably involve less tangible benefits as payments.

Even if the league managed to curtail all forms of material payment for these things, there would still very likely be an unspoken respect for those players who knock out and opponent’s star. It seems, from my outsider’s perspective, that it would be practically inevitable, given how the game works.

Suppose they hadn’t had a bounty system, but had just, in the course of the game, injured Brett Favre anyway in the Conference Championship two years ago. How bad could you feel about it if you were a member of the Saints? I mean, yeah, it would be a shame to hurt a fellow player, but the inescapable fact is that it makes achieving the goal of winning a championship significantly easier.

In criminal cases, the old trope is that the perpetrators need “motive and opportunity”. Well, clearly the motive is to win ball games. And because of the nature of the game, it’s remarkably easy to injure the opponent without appearing to mean to. In fact, it’s a requirement that you take actions that might well injure people to play the game.

Consequently, since all the incentives are there, and since it’s extremely easy to do, it would be kind of surprising if this didn’t go on. Highly lamentable, but not surprising.

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